Brunswick adds 18 safe zones to fight drug activity
BRUNSWICK — The Town Council Monday unanimously approved 18 new drug-free safe zones in hopes of curbing drug-related activity that Deputy Police Chief Marc Hagan said is a serious problem.
Hagan said the Police Department's recommendation came after 51 people were convicted of drug trafficking in the past three years: 29 were arrested for trafficking prescription drugs, and nine for trafficking marijuana. Other trafficked drugs include heroin and cocaine.
"There are people making weekly trips to Massachusetts" and coming back to sell drugs, Hagan said earlier Monday.
The new safe zones include park and recreation areas, he said, and their designations will increase penalties for drug dealers caught in those areas.
He said the Police Department will erect safe-zone signs in all of the areas.
Hagan said the specific areas were targeted because they are frequented by minors – the primary group police hope to protect.
The town previously had 11 safe zones, including Coffin Pond, Edwards Field, Lishness Field, Hambleton Avenue Playground, Nathaniel Davis Park, Shulman Field, Wildwood Field, Coffin Ice Pond, Upper/Lower Mall and the Androscoggin River Bicycle and Pedestrian Path.
They were approved by the council in 2009.
"I can't promise you that the signs are a deterrent, because we have made several arrests in these areas," Hagan said at Monday's council meeting. "(What) I can tell you is (when drug dealers) are convicted of the enhanced crimes, they are off the streets for longer periods, so you can go to these locations without having to worry about you or your children seeing drug activity."
Hagan said some of the prime drug activity areas include Union Street near St. John's Catholic School, the Androscoggin River Bicycle Path, Hamilton Park, the Downtown Mall and Davis Park.
"We have an officer that focuses on local drug activity," Hagan said. "He's out straight busy with drug investigations."
While all of the newly approved safe zones are recreation areas, one proposed safe zone did not get the council's approval: Perryman Village, an affordable housing property at Cook's Corner.
One of the reasons it failed was because a letter from John Hodge, Brunswick Housing Authority's executive director, was supposed to be included in the council's agenda packet, and it was missing.
As Councilor Sarah Brayman noted, this would have made Perryman Village the only housing project in town to be designated as a safe zone.
Hodge on Tuesday said he recommended the village become a safe zone.
"We have many families in this 50 unit family development with young children," Hodge wrote in the letter that wasn't included in the council's packet, "and we are most desirous in protecting them from the negative influence of drugs."
Brayman said she wasn't comfortable with creating all of Perryman Village a safe zone, because it was not consistent with recreational nature of the other areas.
Instead, she suggested designating the 1,000-foot radius around the playground at the village as a safe zone.
Hagan said the council could re-explore the Perryman Village proposal in a future meeting, with Hodge's letter attached next time.
Councilor John Perreault suggested the town include the newly accepted park space on McKeen Street as a safe zone, too.
Town Manager Gary Brown said the town cannot do that because it has not officially acquired the property. But, he added, the council can revisit the suggestion at a later meeting when the land transfer is complete.