June 15, 2016 - 9:00 PM
KELOWNA - Kelowna’s arts district draws locals from across the Okanagan and tourists from around the world, but over the last few months it has become a draw for local criminals and police as well.
The west end of Cawston Avenue is where a large percentage of the city’s drug deals take place, one Kelowna RCMP officer says. It is located just outside the red zone, where most convicted criminals are forbidden to visit, but central enough to still be convenient.
Sgt. Greg Woodcox estimates there are roughly 50 individuals currently with red zone restrictions as a result of a conviction. Most are for possession or distribution of narcotics, but prosecutors could ask for the exclusion in cases of prostitution, mischief or assaults as well.
He says officers routinely witness drug deals and are receiving calls from concerned businesses who say their neighbourhood is being overrun.
“Every time I go there, there are two or three people hanging around on the periphery of the red zone,” he says. “It’s an area where we’re having to spend a bit more time over the last three weeks.”
That area around Prospera Place, the Grand Hotel and Casino, Rotary Centre for the Arts, the Kelowna Art Gallery and the Laurel Building used to be popular with drug dealers and their customers, Woodcox says, but it wasn’t until recently that they started to see a resurgence.
“It hasn’t been a problem for a year,” he says. “It’s all drug trafficking. They get pushed out of the red zone and the neighborhood’s are complaining.”
His concerns echo a recent request Coun. Charlie Hodge made to council last month.
Hodge said the red zone only pushes the busiest criminals into surrounding areas and he is asking for proof it is working the way it was hoped when it was implemented in the early 1990's.
“I live on the edge of it and I’ve seen a significant increase in crime and homelessness in our neighbourhood in the last six years,” he said in an interview with iNFOnews.
The red zone covers most of downtown from the waterfront east to Ethel Street and Sutherland Avenue north to Doyle Avenue. Crown prosecutors will ask for a red-zone exclusion in cases of repeat offenders or instances where the trouble is caused in that area. It can also be used to describe an area where crimes regularly take place.
Anyone caught downtown who is under a red zone exclusion can be arrested and charged with breach of conditions.
“It's either that or you have 300 people on Leon (Avenue) instead of 75," Woodcox says.
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