“Signs, signs, everywhere signs…”


Another of the five drug zone signs on Reiche Elementary School. (photo/The Fuge)
Another of the five drug zone signs on Reiche Elementary School. (photo/The Fuge)

“Signs, signs, everywhere signs…” 

If the Portland City Council votes to implement drug-free “safe zones” at the locations recommended by the police department – and, following Westbrook’s lead, includes privately owned properties as well as public parks and trails – the number of new signs in town could approach or exceed 1,000.

The department’s list included about 140 areas, but the state law dictates that each area be “conspicuously marked.” This would require that most zones – particularly those covering large areas, like Deering Oaks, the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus, the East End Trail, Riverton Trolley Park and the Peaks Island Loop Trail — be posted with multiple signs.

Signs announcing drug-free zones around schools are generally posted on every side of the building. 

District Attorney Stephanie Anderson said the new “safe zone” law is intended, in part, to shield children from contact with drug paraphernalia.

Somewhat ironically, the school- zone signs themselves expose children to drug paraphernalia. The signs on Portland’s public schools have an illustration of a marijuana leaf, a spilled bottle of pills and a hypodermic needle. 

(They also falsely state that “Portland Police aggressively prosecute drug law violators….” Of course, police enforce laws, but do not prosecute criminal defendants; that’s the D.A.’s job. Also noteworthy: the signs once provided a phone number to call to “provide information” on drug violations near schools, but that number has been covered over in a way that suggests city workers, not vandals, removed it years ago.) 

The new signs may or may not feature an illustration, but all of them must say the following: “DRUG-FREE SAFE ZONE. Increased Penalties for Drug Crimes Committed within this Zone.” Unlike the signs now posted at schools, the new signs would not specifically mention the radius of the zone, but they must include a parenthetical reference to the law at the bottom: “(17-A M.R.S.A. Chapter 45).”

Westbrook Police Chief Paul McCarthy said his city’s signs cost $15.95 each. Some were mounted on existing posts, but others required a new metal post, at a cost of $8.50 each, and all the installations entailed labor costs, as well — Westbrook had its municipal employees install the signs. 

If Portland posted one sign at each of the 140 locations police recommend be posted, the cost would surpass $2,200. If half of those locations required new posts, the cost would approach $3,000. But again, it seems likely that many locations would require multiple postings, so that cost could climb, including labor costs, by several thousand additional dollars. 

Rep. Hotham and others noted that one concern – perhaps the sole concern — raised during state-level discussion of the law involved the cost the state would incur if it were required to provide municipalities with the signs. Several sources said that cost was a factor in making the law voluntary – that is, if a town or city wants the zones, that community is responsible for the cost of buying and installing the signs.

Portland City Councilor Cheryl Leeman has expressed concern that all the signs could create a “blight” on the city’s urban landscape. (She referenced the 1971 anti-establishment anthem “Signs,” by the Five Man Electrical Band, during the Public Safety Committee meeting.)

Unconsciously echoing the findings of sentencing commission members from New Jersey – Leeman had not seen their report – she added, “With so many signs there, it could get to a point where they’re going to be ineffective… and people ignore it.”

The flip-side, however, is that the posting of hundreds of drug zone signs could give residents and, particularly, tourists and other visitors the impression that Portland is infested with illegal drugs and plagued by drug-related crime. 

Leeman is less concerned with that possibility. Drug crime in Portland “is a bigger issue than perhaps people realize…. I hope the message is that Portland has zero tolerance.” 

— C.B.


The Center for Cultural Exchange, one of over 100 locations police hope to post as "drug-free safe zones." (photo/Sean Wilkinson)
The Center for Cultural Exchange, one of over 100 locations police hope to post as "drug-free safe zones." (photo/Sean Wilkinson)


The following is the exact list of locations the police department has asked the City Council to post as “safe zones.” 

Athletic Fields

Breakwater School athletic fields – Albion Street
Catherine McAuley Sport’s complex 
Cheverus athletic facility – Washington Avenue
City Acres athletic park – Peaks Island
Deering Oaks
Deering Little League – Ludlow Street
Dougherty Fields – Douglass Street
Fitzpatrick Stadium
Fox Street athletic facility
Hadlock Field
Jack softball field – North Street
Kiley Field – Eastern Prom
Lyman Moore athletic fields
Memorial Stadium – Columbia Road
Payson Little and Softball fields
Pedro Field – Baxter Boulevard/Preble Street Extension
Preble Street athletic facility
Presumpscot Field
Quinn Field – Deering Oaks
Riverton fields
Waynflete athletic facility – Hobart Street


Andrews Square
Back Cove
Barrow’s Park
Baxter Boulevard
Baxter (Deering) Pines
Baxter Woods
Bedford Park
Belmeade Park
Boothby Square
Bramhall Square
Capisic Park
Capisic Pond Park
Congress Square
Deering Oaks
Devonshire Park
East End Beach
Eastern Promenade
Edwards Park
Fessenden Park
Fore Rover Park
Fort Allen Park
Fort Gorges
Fort Sumner Park
Free Street Park – Ford Monument
Harbor View Park
Heseltine Park
Lincoln Park
Lobsterman Plaza
Longfellow Park
Longfellow Square
Nason’s Corner Park
Oatnuts Park
Payson Park
Pine Grove Park
Post Office Park
Presumpscot Park
Presumpscot River Preserve
Quaker Park
Quarry Run Dog Park
Riverton Trolley Park
Stroudwater Park (Congress and Waldo streets)
Stroudwater Park 2 (Congress and Westbrook streets)
Thomas Square
Tommy’s Park
Trinity Park
University Park
Upper Exchange (street)
Veteran’s Memorial Park
Valley Street Dog Park
Western Promenade
Winslow Park


Adams School
Baxter School
Bayside Park (Unity Village)
Clark Street Park
Cliff Island Park
Deering Oaks
Dougherty Field
Great Diamond Island Park
Front Street Housing
Hall School
Jack (the new East End) School
Kennedy Park
Longfellow School
Lyseth/Lyman Moore School
McIntyre Park
Munjoy South Park
Nathan Clifford School
Payson Park
Peaks Island School
Peppermint Park
Pleasant Street Park
Presumpscot School
Reiche School
Riverton Park
Riverton School
St. Patrick’s School
Tate and Tyng Playground
Willis Playground – Eastern Prom
Valley Street Park

Recreation Facilities

Back Cove Trail
Bat Cave
Boys and Girls Club
Capisic Brook Trail
Center for Cultural Exchange
Children’s Museum of Maine
Cummings Center
East End Trail
Evergreen Cemetery
Evergreen Woods Trail
Fore River Trail
Fore River Sanctuary
Harbor Walk Trail
Happy Wheels
Kennedy Park Community Center
Kiwanis Pool
Marginal Way Skateboard Park
Martin’s Point Trail
Merrill Auditorium
PATHS trails
Peaks Island Loop Trail
Pinegrove Park Trail
Portland Expo
Portland Parks and Recreation – Arbor Street
Portland Ice Arena
Portland Rock Gym
Portland Sports Center
Portland West
PROP (510 Cumberland Ave.)
PROP/Parkside Community Policing/185 Grant St.
Preble Street Teen Center
Riverside Golf Course
Root Cellar
Stevens Avenue Armory
Riverton Park Community Center
Sagamore Community Center
University of New England
University of Southern Maine
Yankee Lanes

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