Rural areas see biggest rise in crime, report says

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PARIS — A report from the state shows crime rose slightly across Maine in 2010, and rural areas accounted for nearly all of the increase.

According to the Maine Department of Public Safety, crime in rural areas, defined by the department as towns and territories covered by sheriff’s offices and state police, was up 14 percent. In urban areas, defined as cities and towns with police departments, crime rose less than half a percent.

Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant said he hadn’t seen overall statistics for 2010 compared to 2009, but he has seen crime rise in Oxford County.

“I think there has been an increase,” he said Wednesday. “When the economy goes, there’s always new criminal elements who try to find new ways to deprive people of their property and try to gain some money in their pockets,” he said.

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Gallant said the department sees a high number of reported burglaries each year at this time as people return to seasonal homes for the first time of the season to find burglaries that happened over the winter.

He said the department has been using snow machines to check up on houses on lakes in the winter. He said they’re often more accessible from frozen lakes than they are from the back roads.

He said seasonal and abandoned homes aren’t just being robbed; they’re being stripped of scrap metals like copper. “We have a lot of those we’re investigating,” Gallant said.

“The biggest thing is the high cost they’re getting now for junk metal, and especially copper.”

According to the report, burglaries in rural areas rose 16 percent in 2010 to 2,898 incidents versus 2,435 incidents in 2009. Burglaries were up 8.6 percent in the state overall.

In rural areas, larceny-thefts increased 13.3 percent, rape increased by 7.8 percent, aggravated assaults were up 11.3 percent and car thefts were up 12.5 percent, according to the report. Crimes going down in the rural areas were arson, which dropped 52.6 percent, and simple assaults, which were down 4.3 percent.

Because of the Maine Department of Safety’s definition of rural, Bethel is considered rural since the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office took over coverage. Gallant said the department is investigating thefts in Bethel as well as other towns.

“No one’s immune, that’s for sure.”

According to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, statistics on individual counties won’t be available until this summer.

treaves@sunjournal.com

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