Creating a Drug Free Zone

What is a Drug Free Zone?

A Drug Free Zone is any specific location in the community, especially an area where children congregate, that the citizens perceive as being a place where drug trafficking or alcohol availability problems exist, and the citizens decide to take action.

Typically, communities have targeted schools and school yards, parks and playgrounds, public housing developments, and specific neighborhoods or city blocks.

Why Start a Drug Free Zone?

Across the nation, communities experience a variety of problems associated with drug and alcohol:
  • Deteriorating neighborhoods
  • Graffiti
  • Drug dealing
  • Loss of public facilities, such as parks and playgrounds
  • Cars speeding up and down streets
  • Violence
  • Gun shots
  • Gang activity
  • Prostitution
  • Increased crime
  • Abundance of liquor outlets in a concentrated area
  • Over-concentration of alcohol & tobacco billboard advertising
Citizens have realized that if these problems are to be eliminated "someone" must do something about it. The entire community–schools, treatment providers, local government, the judicial system, and community leaders–must join forces to clean up the neighborhood and create a better, safer, and healthier place to live. Law enforcement can’t do it alone.

What are some Possible Strategies?

  • Work with law enforcement in starting a community policing program.
  • Put up signs declaring the targeted area a Drug Free Zone.
  • Hold neighborhood rallies or marches and invite the press.
  • Ask your local police to conduct sweeps of the targeted area and to arrest drug dealers.
  • Ask to have vehicles towed.
  • Meet with judges to tell them of your concerns and request their cooperation in prosecuting drug cases in your area.
  • Meet with elected officials to get support for your Drug Free Zone efforts.
  • Ask city officials to add street lights, corner lights, and parking lot lights; and install more traffic signs, stop lights, speed bumps, or cross walks where needed.
  • Work with law enforcement or city officials to have public inspectors (i.e., housing, fire, sanitation) check conditions of suspected crack houses for code violations — as with Oak- land Police Department’s Beat Health Unit’s SMART Team approach.
  • Meet with municipal government officials to find out how they can help you, such as with nuisance abatement.
  • Use small claims court against landlords who have created a nuisance in the neighborhood by allowing tenants to use their property for drug dealing.
  • Report suspicious activity to the police and maintain a log, including date and time of activity.
  • Ask store owners and residents to sign petitions for implementing parking restrictions.
  • Organize a take-back-the-park effort to include special events such as Family Picnic Days.
  • Start recreation, sports, or other alternative programs for youth.
  • Make arrangements with telephone companies to prevent incoming calls at local pay phones used for drug dealing transactions.
  • Ask that sprinklers in parks and playgrounds be turned on where and when dealers congregate.
  • Organize or expand neighborhood or block watch programs.
  • Ask the zoning administration office not to grant liquor licenses to new applicants in areas where there are too many liquor outlets.
  • Work with local city officials to regulate or even ban alcohol and tobacco billboard advertising in your community.
What Makes a Drug Free Zone Work?

The key to Drug Free Zones is community residents banding together to form partnerships with law enforcement, schools, treatment programs, local government, businesses, and community organizations. These partnerships create a powerful force to carry out a successful Drug Free Zone campaign. In short, drug free zones work because citizens work as a group to:
  • Take charge and decide what action is needed.
  • Form liaisons with government.
  • Convince government to listen and respond to the community’s needs.
  • Target specific problem areas.
  • Develop realistic goals.
  • Monitor their progress.
  • Celebrate their successes!
Questions in Starting a Drug Free Zone

The following are questions which typically arise during the initial stages of developing a Drug Free Zone.

Are there laws pertaining to Drug Free Zones?

Yes. For example, the California Health and Safety Code Section 11353.1 enhances penalties for controlled substance violations within 1,000 feet of school grounds or buildings, or upon the grounds of facilities open for use by minors. (See also California Health and Safety Code Sections 11353.5, 11353.6, 11353.7, 11380 and 11380.1.) Similar provisions are provided for in federal law; see United States Code Annotated (USCA), Title 21 Food and Drugs, Section 860a.

Have your law enforcement representative discuss these laws as well as local ordinances which may apply to Drug Free Zones. (Such as laws pertaining to the sale of drug paraphernalia, the restriction on the number of liquor outlets, etc.)
Shouldn’t law enforcement take charge in starting a Drug Free Zone?

Not necessarily. Although many Drug Free Zone efforts have been initiated by law enforcement, effective Drug Free Zones must involve a police-community partnership. Many programs have also been started by a group of concerned citizens going to their police and asking for help.
Will starting a Drug Free Zone just move the problem to another neighborhood or area?

Yes, it could. Those neighborhoods will also need to make the drug dealers uncomfortable and unwelcome. Be prepared to assist other neighborhoods by sharing what you’ve learned.
Who will provide the resources to start a Drug Free Zone?

Most Drug Free Zone strategies involve no financial cost, just people’s time, energy, and commitment, and maybe reallocating some resources. However, where costs do come into play, check with local government agencies to see what resources or services may be available. Community fund raisers may also be helpful.
Things To Remember

  1. Designate a lead person or coordinator for your Drug Free Zone effort.
  2. Involve key people – don’t forget to include youth and youth-serving organizations as part of your group.
  3. Meet often.
  4. Conduct a community-needs assessment.
  5. Work with the local media.
  6. Create and maintain partnerships.
  7. Maintain a written record of your efforts.
  8. Conduct an ongoing evaluation of your efforts.
  9. Recognize individual and group achievements.
  10. Celebrate Your Success!
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