AUGUSTA – Increased drug activity helped boost Maine’s crime rate 4.6 percent last year, the head of the Department of Public Safety said Tuesday.

Commissioner Anne Jordan summarized 2006 crime statistics for the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Preliminary results will be released today, and a longer report will follow.

The statistics were derived from figures reported to the federal government. Related conclusions were taken from comments made during the conviction process, Jordan said.

The 4.6 percent spike was the biggest year-to-year increase the department has seen in more than a decade, Jordan said, although some categories did decrease, the report shows. Assaults are down, along with auto thefts, for example.

And when compared to other states, “Maine is still one of the safest places in the nation,” Jordan said.

Still, homicide and rape rates in Maine were up significantly. There were 23 killings in 2006, compared with 19 in 2005. Rape rates were up 5.6 percent.

This year there have been eight homicides in the state – four resulting from domestic violence and two linked to drugs – right on target with last year’s numbers.

Property crimes showed the biggest increase. Robbery was up 18.6 percent from 2005, burglary up 7.9 percent, theft up 4.2 percent and arson up 9 percent.

Jordan said most of those convicted of the property crimes admitted to stealing in order to feed drug habits. The state is seeing more drugs coming in from Canada, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey. One person rode an underwater mini-bike along the bottom of a river from Canada to smuggle in marijuana.

The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency investigated 860 cases and made 600 arrests last year, she said.

“We have a real problem with people abusing prescription drugs and narcotics,” Jordan said.

The numbers sparked some concern and discussion among committee members.

“Our jail overcrowding – it’s easy to see why that’s happening, because of the crime,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham and Senate chairman of the committee.

Her department is struggling financially, along with many state agencies, Jordan said. She would like to add more patrols to the Maine State Police but the money isn’t there.

“Our trooper patrols are stretched absolutely thin,” she said.

Rep. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, noted that Maine and other places on the East Coast are behind the times when it comes to crime trends.

Jordan told the committee that there will likely be more cooperation with other New England states in coming years. Rep. Richard Sykes, R-Harrison, asked about partnering with Canada.

“That place across the border – what the heck are they doing?” about drug smuggling, he asked.

Another reason for the increase is that the children of baby boomers are hitting “prime crime” age, Jordan said.

Overall, last year, rural areas saw a bigger increase in crime – 1.9 percent – while urban areas saw a 1.3 percent increase.

Most crime is attributed to adults. Adult arrests increased 7 percent; juvenile arrests increased 0.6 percent.

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