Is Portland a safe place to live?

The Portland Police Department has introduced an online survey to gauge public sentiment on crime, police responsiveness and safety in Maine’s largest city. If you want to weigh in, you can click through the survey here — it’s 40 questions long, but they’re mostly not essay questions, so it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to add your perspectives to the mix.

I’ll be quite interested to see the results of this survey when they’re complete.

Portland police officers stand at the ready on Alder Street late last month at the scene of a standoff. (BDN file photo by Troy R. Bennett)

As a member of the Portland media, I know that violent crime is much more likely to make its way into the news. That’s in large part a product of supply-and-demand in the news industry — we can track reader interest in the form of web traffic more closely now than ever before in the history of journalism, and consumers read stories about violent crime.

Murder, armed robberies, shootings and standoffs with gunmen are what grab the headlines, and it may be easy for residents to get the impression from those stories that Portland is a dangerous place to live.

And I guess, depending on what you’re comparing it to, it might be. It is Maine’s largest city, and is bound to have more crime in sheer numbers than anyplace else in the state because it has almost twice as many people as the next largest municipalities.

But Maine is regularly found to be one of the safest states — in terms of low crime rates, among other criteria — in the country, and by many metrics, the crime rates in Portland have decreased or plateaued in recent years.

So do Portland residents feel the safety the latter data might indicate they have? Or do they feel the danger more likely to be showcased by the media? I’ll be interested in finding out when they compile the answers from the survey.

Here are a couple of sentences from a police announcement about how the survey information will be used:

Our mission includes maintaining a safe city by working in partnership with the community. This survey allows us to reach out to the people that matter most and learn how we are doing. Information gathered will be used to help guide the department in our crime reduction efforts, community policing initiatives, and ways to strengthen relationships within the community.

Working with the department on the project is University of New England Associate Professor of Social Work Thomas McLaughlin, who has done a lot of great work with Portland organizations to help evaluate the effectiveness of programs to help the homeless, among other things.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.