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Mounties propose 'Red Zone' in Maple Ridge's downtown core

Ridge Meadows RCMP are in the works of barring prolific offenders and drug traffickers from Maple Ridge's downtown core – a strategy which could be implemented in as little as two to three weeks.

RCMP superintendent Dave Fleugel, and inspector Bal Brach made a presentation to City council Monday afternoon, outlining a new strategy called the "Red Zone initiative."

Essentially, this red zone dictates a geographic area which charged offenders will be legally restricted from entering, based on factors related to their offense, Brach explained.

Types of crime include property crime, drug trafficking, and drug possession, and this restriction is applicable to offenders that live outside of the red zone boundaries.

The red zone boundaries would be square shaped, from 222nd Street to 226th Street, and from Brown Avenue and Church Avenue to Lougheed Highway.

There would also be an enforced no-go area of 50 metres – or about one block – along each street.

This initiative is still in the proposal stage for local Mounties, but both federal and provincial Crown counsel has approved and supported the initiative's implementation in Maple Ridge, Fleugel said.

"Within two to three weeks this could be underway," Brach said

Currently, when drug offenders are released, RCMP aren't able to include conditions "right away."

With this new initiative, when they forward charges, they can include victim statements from business owners and the Maple Ridge Business Improvements Association in order to "meet that legal threshold to be able to put these boundaries on people," Fleugel explained.

Generally, crime between 216th Street and 227th Street, and 214th Avenue to the Haney Bypass, has increased by 13 per cent between the first quarter and the second quarter of 2016, Brach said.

However, "police investigation in relation to property crime has actually gone down and not up," he noted.

Property crime represented 56 per cent of total criminal code offenses in April to June, a 19 per cent decrease compared to the same period in 2015.

There has been an increase in liquor or intoxicated offenses, and bylaw offenses where police have assisted, such as parking, litter, and vagrancy, he said.

"Numbers where we have an increase are more-or-less related to behavior, instead of criminal activity," Brach continued, noting that crime trends are "actually going down."

Ultimately, Maple Ridge is "a safe community," Brach told council members. Brach has worked in Surrey as well as Vancouver, and about a week ago was promoted to a position with North Vancouver's detachment.

"I can say that Maple Ridge is a safe community... [and] say that without hesitation when I compare to other communities I’ve worked in."

Councillor Tyler Shymkiw questioned if a barred offender would still be allowed to access services such as the welfare offices and Ministry of Child and Family Development offices.

A restricted offender would still be able to access these resources, but would not be allowed to enter the downtown core for any other reason, Brach explained.

Shymkiw said he was "disappointed" the red zone could not include North Avenue and its surrounding area further south of Lougheed Highway.

RCMP did ask for this area to be included, Brach said, but Crown counsel noted the area "needs to be a box," to limit complications for judges, but the 50-metre rule does allow some added area to the red zone boundary.

"I'm glad to hear it's a fairly robust thing," Shymkiw responded.

Councillor Gordy Robson liked the strategy, as well.

"[We're] heading in right direction; [this] fits well in where we need to be headed," he said.

He questioned if crime trends are down or whether "reporting is down."

"I know many merchants in town who have given up calling," he said.

Later in the meeting, Fleugel acknowledged Robson's comments, asking community members to pick up the phone when they see criminal activity happening.

“Calling is down, but we really need our citizens to keep calling," he said.

Councillor Bob Masse voiced concern about the red zone boundaries not being enforced on those living in the downtown core.

"A lot of the activities [are] associated with those who live in the red zone," he said.

Due to a person's legal rights, it curtails RCMP officers' abilities to bar them from the area, Fleugel noted.

And while council members generally responded positively to the new strategy, Fleugel warned this is merely one strategy in identifying crime in the community.

"The red zone is a tool. It’s not going to be the silver bullet to make all things better," Fleugel said. "[It's to] keep vulters and drug dealers and outsiders in town away from vulnerable people... but it’s not going to get rid of everything."

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New strategies explored

In addition to implementing the red zone, the local RCMP have been reviewing practices from detachments in other cities, including Kelowna and Surrey.

One strategy includes "long forming," which allows City bylaw officers to use the red zone but for certain bylaws infractions.

"Bylaw [enforcement] will be exploring this," Brach said.

Ridge Meadows RCMP are also looking to create a "social chronic offender list," in addition to the prolific offender list already in use.

During Monday's meeting, Brach outlined some of the strategies already in use by Ridge Meadows officers and community members, such as Citizens on Patrol, a community response team, 24/7 uniformed officers, and the prolific offender suppression team made up of plain-clothes officers.

In August, detectives were also "re-purposed" to work as uniform officers, equating to 11 uniformed officers working the downtown core in addition to detectives.

He also highlighted bylaw enforcement members, and current City's downtown public safety program liaison Dave Walsh.

"We know we shouldn’t be standing still and always look ahead to do business better," he noted.

Photographing drug deals

During the meeting, Councillor Corisa Bell asked about what community members should do when they see a drug deal, in particular if they should take photos and intervene.

"There’s a lot of conversation of open drug deals going on... I would like to know... if [the] public should be taking photos in the middle of the drug deal?"

Taking photos could cause the situation to escalate quickly and become dangerous, Bach replied.

Similarly, "the photograph is not going to help us. We need physical drugs," Fleugel said.

Drug related offenses increased 15 per cent in April to June compared to the same period in 2015.

Drug possession is one of the more difficult charges for local RCMP, as the drugs are the evidence but often already consumed by the time police arrive, Fleugel said.

"That's why we need the plain clothes officers to intervene," he added. "We are doing our best to keep people who don’t belong here to keep them away from victimizing our citizens."

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