RCMP working on ‘red zone’ for downtown Maple Ridge

Repeat criminals could be banned from downtown area.

Ridge Meadows RCMP are working on a plan to ban habitual criminals from downtown Maple Ridge.

It’s called the “red zone” and if you have a string of charges or a lengthy criminal record, you won’t be allowed in it.

RCMP Insp. Bal Brach told Maple Ridge council Monday that police are working on the concept, which already has approval from provincial and federal prosecutors.

People with criminal records can be banned from the red zone, based on police- or court-ordered conditions of release, provided they’ve been caught doing crime in the area.

The geographic boundaries are from Brown Avenue to 50 metres south of Lougheed Highway, between 222nd to 226th streets.

Police have to explain to the court why they want to set conditions upon release and therefore will get victim impact statements from the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association and individual businesses.

“The type of people that we’ll be looking to bar from coming within that red zone are going to be non-resident subjects who are charged with drug trafficking,” Brach said.

Repeat thieves or those with repeated charges of drug possession will also be targeted.

“Those are kind of the main groups that will be affected by the red zone.”

But any criminal can be barred from the red zone, if police can establish grounds, he added.

Brach said police want to bring the red zone into force within a few weeks.

Police are also looking at a similar method called “long forming” which is used in Kelowna. The practice works the same way, but uses cumulative bylaw infractions as a means of keeping people out of the downtown area.

Police have also created a social chronic offender list, similar to prolific offender list, where police targeted people who are repeat offenders.

Coun. Tyler Shymkiw asked what happens if the people who have been banned from downtown need to access social services.

Brach said exemptions can be given for such cases, though they wouldn’t extend to entering the downtown to do shopping.

“I guess, at the end of the day, if you’re breaking the law, there has to be a bit of inconvenience that comes with that.”

However, the red zone ban won’t apply to people who actually live within the zone, although it’s possible someone might even be barred from going to their home, if it’s used as a basis of criminal activity.

“That’s almost an incentive to live within the red zone,” Coun. Bob Masse said of the exemption for people who live within the downtown.

Supt. Dave Fleugel said the red zone is only one tool police will use.

“It is one strategy that we haven’t tried before, to keep mainly the vultures and drug dealers and some of the outside people … away from our vulnerable people,” he added.

“But it is not going to solve everything.”

Council heard that police are using plainclothes officers, a four-member community response team, regular patrols, Citizens on Patrol, bylaws and private security, along with former superintendent Dave Walsh, who has been hired as a bylaw officer, to focus on the downtown.

Brach told council that the number of calls from downtown has climbed by 13 per cent in first three months of this year.

Other stats show crime dropping. But Coun. Gordy Robson said that’s because people are not calling police.

“I don’t think they’re trending down. I think the reporting is down.”

Brach, though, said Maple Ridge remains a safe community.

“There is a high level of violence in some communities and I haven’t seen it in Maple Ridge,” he said.