HARRISON — Drug users and dealers beware: Harrison is not open for business.
This is the message the Board of Selectmen wants to send those wheeling and dealing in illegal substances through the proposed development of a Safe Zone Ordinance, which could increase penalties for people caught trafficking, furnishing or cultivating drugs within a designated safe zone. It includes a 1,000 feet perimeter that would focus on areas children frequent. Bridgton passed one in 2007 and the board referenced that document at its meeting on Thursday, May 14.
“Crime has come to rural America. … It’s out there. We don’t have to like it but we have to understand it’s really there. I think there’s a tendency for crime to go where there’s the least chance for it to get caught,” Town Manager George “Bud” Finch said.
The proposed ordinance is similar to speeding through a construction zone on the interstate and facing doubled fines if caught, he added.
Selectman Richard Sykes brought the idea to the board since he served on the Criminal Justice Public Safety Committee during his tenure on the state Legislature. There’s a statue that allows municipalities to increase penalties for drugs consumed, sold or cultivated in designated safe zones.
“Think a little bit about the town of Harrison and what we could do to maybe express or (create a) deterrent to some of the drug use that might take place,” he said. “Basically it’s a permissive statue. We don’t have to do it.”
Three spots in town Sykes immediately thought would be good safe zones include Crystal Lake Park on Main Street, Mill Park off Mill Street near the dams and Radr Field Sports Complex on Route 117.
“It wouldn’t be a bad place to post these signs and let people know, ‘Hey, if you get caught in these safe zones, it’s an elevated, aggravated penalty and it’s pretty severe,’” Sykes said.
Chairman Bill Winslow and Finch agree Mill Pond is a spot where drug activity is said to occur. The town manager said there is at least alcohol use in the park since empty containers are found regularly. Finch pointed out that it’s not always residents who are committing crimes in town, but those who don’t live there.
“The question of what kind, how much, how often is always a good question. Our deputy is aware of the area and it is watched also by our parks crew,” Finch said. “For the most part it is kids hanging around, as we see it.”
Other safety zones Selectmen and Finch are eyeing include Long Lake Park near the Village Tie Up on Main Street, Long Lake Beach, Zekelo Beach (also know as Kelo Beach) and the community room at the fire station, where there are kids activities during the summer. It would identical to the drug-free school zones in School Administrative District 17, Finch said.
“I think it’s a great idea, my only trepidation is, can we enforce it? How do we enforce it? If someone’s at the beach and they they see someone they think is doing some trafficking, can we get a sheriff here soon enough?” Selectmen Vice Chair Kathy Laplante wondered.
Resident and former deputy Arnold Packard agreed with Laplante on both fronts.
“I’ve seen a sheriff in town twice since January,” he said, noting he travels through town several times a day.
“It’s not the best situation in the world with the deputy and the way that we have it, but it’s what we can afford,” Winslow said.
Harrison has one full-time Cumberland County Sheriff’s deputy assigned to Harrison, Finch said, and there is patrol coverage when she’s off duty. Selectman Richard St. John and Laplante said they’ve seen a deputy in town more than twice since the beginning of the year.
“We’re at the mercy of having somebody available. I think the risk of worrying about whether you’re going to catch somebody in that moment versus the fact that there’s a fear of it out there might be the trigger that helps at least some of it stay away from here,” Finch said.
The ordinance could be addressed at a special town meeting or it could be placed on the ballot for the November elections, he added. Before that, a public hearing will have to be held.
“I would like to think … ‘Why would anybody be against it?’ But you have to give people the opportunity to be against it,” Finch said.
The Safe Zone Ordinance will be revisited at a future Selectmen’s meeting after a map with potential zones is developed.