It’s one of the toughest jobs police have in Kelowna — patrolling the city’s drug-riddled downtown core.
It’s a place where the homeless congregate — many struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
It’s a territory where citizens and even some police officers prefer to avoid, but there are a few on the force who have embraced the challenge and are trying make a difference in the lives of the desperate.
In a two-part series, Global’s Kelly Hayes spent some time with two officers to get a glimpse into the challenges police deal with in enforcing the law — in what sometimes appears to be a lawless downtown core.
Sergeant Greg Woodcox and Corporal Carrie Seale patrol a back alley in downtown Kelowna. This is their turf and they see it all — how addiction has ruined countless lives and the crime that follows.
“Their day is focused on getting drugs, getting money for drugs which also involves thefts from vehicles, minor thefts, thefts from stores down here which we’ve seen an increase in,” said Cpl. Woodcox.
And the drug of choice on the streets of Kelowna is meth, because it’s cheap and the high last for hours.
“Meth is way cheaper and available all the time. The supplies never changed in years,” said Woodcox. “It’s $10 for a point of meth — pretty cheap. Most people use three to six points a day, so that’s something you can probably manage to do, not having employment.”
Right behind meth is fentanyl — disguised as heroin and crack cocaine.
“Heroin is something you use a couple of times a day and crack cocaine is something you use until you can’t use anymore,” said Woodcox. “That’s why you’ll see a lot of tin foil on the streets, because a lot of people are smoking it. That’s why you’ll see more tin foil than needles.”
Like the meth, the fentanyl is everywhere.
“We probably charged over 100 people with trafficking in fentanyl in these two blocks within the year so far,” said Woodcox. “So it’s pretty easy to get.”
And where’s there are drugs, there are going to be arrests — a ton of them.
“We charged 152 people so far this year — 152 charges of trafficking only in the 400 and 200 block of Leon which is extremely high and that’s only so far this year,” said Woodcox.
Many have been arrested more than once.
“I’ve arrested some people down here 40 or 50 times. The majority of people get bail,” said Woodcox. “Unfortunately, we keep seeing the same people over and over again.”
And Woodcox has come to realize that the court system is a revolving door.
“When I first started, I thought I could arrest my way out of this problem and I can’t,” he said. “I arrested hundreds of people in the first couple of months I was here. And all it is, is people in and out of the system all the time.”
But Sgt. Woodcox and Cpl. Seale are not about putting drug addicts in jail. They’re into building relationships and helping people get off the street.
“There’s something to be said about getting to know these folks down here,” said Seale.
On Thursday, we look at how an ounce of kindness gets results for Seale and Woodcox — but don’t mistake their kindness for weakness.