Lewiston police chief credits youth outreach for lower crime rate

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LEWISTON — The city’s top cop on Monday credited youth outreach efforts for a sharp drop in the rate of burglaries.

Lewiston’s residential burglary rates dropped more than 10 percent from 2015 to 2016 and nonresidential burglaries plummeted 38 percent during the same period.

It’s a trend.

Since 2012, residential burglaries in the city have plunged by 60 percent; nonresidential burglaries, down 50 percent.

Juvenile crime, including many of the burglaries, has declined as minors have more activities to keep them busy in the community than in the past, Police Chief Brian O’Malley said.

“That the kids have something to do, such as going to the Tree Street (Youth Center), has been a big boost to the city,” he said. The 6-year-old organization, started by two Bates College students, started out as an academic support program but has blossomed into a multi-faceted program for school-aged students after school.

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Community public schools have also offered more after-school and summer programs to keep students engaged, O’Malley said.

“We have a very large juvenile population in the city of Lewiston,” he said. “Our juvenile crime rate is not reflective of that because of the work the school department and these other agencies,” have done, in addition to school resource officers, as well as community outreach efforts by police, he said.

Local police officers underwent training in dealing specifically with teenagers, O’Malley noted. That included inviting teens to engage in role playing with police officers who assumed the identity of a teenager while teens played the role of law enforcement.

O’Malley’s department has a police substation on Bates Street to address neighborhood problems at their source.

Other categories of crimes that marked a decline last year include robbery (down 14 percent) and rape (down 57 percent). Assaults (except on police officers) also show a steady drop since 2012.

Lewiston hasn’t seen a homicide since 2014, O’Malley said.

The overall crime rate for the city was down last year about 3.5 percent from 2015, continuing a downward trend since 2012. So far in 2017, crime numbers are on target to follow that trend, O’Malley said.

When compared with other large cities in the state, Lewiston has one of the lowest rates. At roughly 22 percent, Lewiston’s crime rate is about 20 percentage points lower than Augusta’s, just over 22 points lower than Bangor’s, and slightly more than 8 percentage points lower than Portland’s.

Lewiston also has a lower crime rate in comparison with some of the state’s smaller towns, such as Mexico and Rumford, with populations of 2,590 and 5,646, respectively. In 2016, Lewiston’s population exceeded 36,000 people, O’Malley said.

“Community safety results from a cooperative effort of all elements of our community from the Police Department to our schools, our social service providers, and our individual citizens,” O’Malley said in a written statement.

“The Lewiston Police Department is proud of the dramatic decreases we have seen in our crime rate over recent years,” he wrote. “These decreases are proof of the strong, positive relationship the department has developed with our community and the residents we serve.”

cwilliams@sunjournal.com

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