HOULTON, Maine — Residents will soon see new signs posted at Community Park, the Gentle Memorial Building and local schools declaring each of those areas to be a “Sex Offender Restricted Zone.”
The signs are not being placed at the locations to deal with any specific problem involving convicted sex offenders hanging around schools or playgrounds, according to Houlton Police Chief Butch Asselin.
Rather, they are being positioned to take advantage of a provision in Maine law that elevates the penalty from a Class E to a Class D crime when a sign is present and a violation occurs in that area, he explained in a press release issued Tuesday. Instead of facing a potential six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, the violator could be sentenced to up to 12 months and a $2,000 fine.
Similarly, a sign marked “Drug Safe Zone,” located at Community Park enhances the penalty provision for anyone apprehended furnishing or trafficking in drugs in the area. Wording on the signs follow state guidelines.
The “Sex Offender Restricted Zone” signs measure 18 inches by 18 inches and are made of fiberglass. A total of 10 signs were ordered.
Asselin said he has been in contact with school officials, the recreation program director and civic center director about the placement of signs which may be secured to buildings, fencing, posts or poles.
“Where the signs are ultimately placed will be determined by those officials in charge of their particular building or parks area,” the chief said. “However, they will be clearly visible to the public.”
He added that signs are not being provided at the present time to day care providers.
“I have been in contact with one local day care operator who expressed concern [about] the perception of having a sign visible,” Asselin said. “She already provides a safe environment for the children she cares for and didn’t want to unnecessarily alarm the parents who drop their children off.”
The chief also stressed that parents and guardians should remain diligent about watching children whether they are playing in such a restricted zone or not.
“Observe, question, stay informed and involved in your children’s activities,” he said. “Report any suspicious activity to the police department, school authorities or park directors.”
For information about the sex offenders residing or working in the community, check the sex offender registry by going to www.maine.gov/dps/Sbi/sor.html. Questions also may be directed to Asselin or Detective Kris Calaman, who is responsible for tracking and making sex offender notifications in Houlton, by calling 532-2287.