Browse By

After Arrival of Somali Immigrants, was Lewiston a Crime Outlier for Maine?

Up here in Maine, if you ask a bunch of people on the street which is the most dangerous, crime-ridden town in the state, more than half will name Lewiston.  Lewiston, Maine has a reputation for crime that many people blame on immigrants from the country of Somalia.  There’s just one problem with that claim: it turns out that the violent and property crime rate was far higher before Somali immigrants came to town than after they arrived.   Since I started covering the issue of perceptions toward Lewiston and its Somali community a few years ago, a fair number of people have rejected the story told by crime statistics and insisted that they knew the real story, that the statistics must just be wrong.

One new argument posted to Irregular Times is more reasonable and more testable.  This new argument claims that the crime rate has gone down just about everywhere, and that the Somali community in Lewiston must pose a crime problem because crime has gone down in Lewiston more slowly than everywhere else.  The person who made this claim didn’t cite any source, but fortunately we can make use of the Uniform Crime Reports data tool provided by the FBI for relevant data.  Let’s test that claim by looking at the change in crime in Lewiston from 2001 (when Somali immigration to the town began) to 2012, the last available year in the UCR data toolkit.  But let’s not just look at the change in crime in Lewiston; let’s look at the change in crime over the same 2001-2012 period for every one of the 19 towns in Maine with at least 10,000 population.  (Yes, Maine is a small-town place.)

First, let’s look at the FBI category of violent crime.  Violent crime is measured by the FBI as a rate, per 100,000 population.  How does Lewiston’s change in its violent crime rate compare to the change in the violent crime rate for the other Maine towns of reasonable size?

2012 population Violent Crime Rate, 2001 Violent Crime Rate, 2012 Change
Augusta 18,893 229.6 460.3 230.7
Sanford 20,913 81 305.9 224.9
Biddeford 21,324 241.3 443.9 202.6
Waterville 15,897 88.9 273.7 184.8
South Portland 25,126 89.2 195.3 106.1
Saco 18,848 23.6 129.1 105.5
Kennebunk 11,023 37.8 92 54.2
Gorham 16,764 84.1 133.9 49.8
Bangor 32,744 182.6 230.1 47.5
Lewiston 36,422 211 219.1 8.1
Falmouth 11,468 28.8 26.7 -2.1
Brunswick 20,354 103 98.3 -4.7
Scarborough 19,252 64.2 52.7 -11.5
Windham 17,363 113 99.7 -13.3
Orono 10,663 43.5 28.9 -14.6
Westbrook 17,647 214.8 188 -26.8
Portland 66,256 308.4 260.5 -47.9
York 12,695 69.4 15.9 -53.5
Auburn 22,948 260.5 204.3 -56.2

Lewiston’s violent crime rate is essentially unchanged over the period (and much lower than the average rate for the decade before 2001), a fact that doesn’t support the “Somali crime wave” story very well at all.  But don’t just pay attention to that trend.  Also notice that in 2012, there are actually 7 other towns with higher violent crime rates than Lewiston.  Finally, also notice that there are nine towns in Maine with greater rises in violent crime than Lewiston, and nine towns with declines in violent crime that are greater than Lewiston’s.  Lewiston is right in the middle of the pack.  The change it experienced in violent crime is entirely typical of the changes seen by Maine’s towns.

What about the trends for property crime in Maine’s towns?  Let’s take a look:

2012 population Property Crime Rate, 2001 Property Crime Rate, 2012 Change
Biddeford 21,324 3174.8 5644.3 2469.5
Scarborough 19,252 1448.1 2634.1 1186
Sanford 20,913 2819.3 3794.5 975.2
Westbrook 17,647 2774.5 3463.8 689.3
Augusta 18,893 5579 6203.9 624.9
Brunswick 20,354 2447.7 2924.8 477.1
Auburn 22,948 4526.6 4882.2 355.6
Waterville 15,897 4584.4 4825.3 240.9
Falmouth 11,468 1249.4 1488.3 238.9
Orono 10,663 1990 1978 -12
York 12,695 1988.9 1943.2 -45.7
Kennebunk 11,023 1522.7 1426.7 -96
South Portland 25,126 4108.1 3850.6 -257.5
Portland 66,256 4342.9 3963.1 -379.8
Gorham 16,764 1737.8 1290.2 -447.6
Windham 17,363 2473.2 1905.7 -567.5
Bangor 32,744 6145.5 5575.7 -569.8
Lewiston 36,422 4664.2 3798 -866.2
Saco 18,848 3604.9 2532.9 -1072

Again, Lewiston has a pretty run-of-the-mill property crime rate for Maine: there are 6 towns with higher property crime rates than Lewiston.  And again, Lewiston’s property crime rate has gone down, not up, since Somali immigrants began to arrive.  But wait, there’s more: it turns out that of all the 19 biggest Maine towns, Lewiston had the second-biggest decline in property crime rates.  Lewiston’s change means that compared to its fellow biggish towns in Maine, Lewiston’s actually had a bigger, better, more positive turnaround in crime since 2001.

It’s hard for us to let go of our preconceptions, but sometimes we need to let them go.  Systematic evidence contradicts rumors and anecdotes: Somali immigration simply has not triggered a Lewiston, Maine crime wave.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Psst... what kind of person doesn't support pacifism?

Fight the Republican beast!