City updating panhandling bylaw

City staff are working on bylaw updates that would crack down on problem panhandlers.

At Monday's meeting, council heard a report on Kelowna's bylaw services as a whole, which have seen a 70% increase in complaints since 2012.

Councillor Maxine DeHart says the situation has ramped up along the Highway 97 corridor, in the area around Leckie.

"It's quite dangerous - lately I've noticed they're sort of going into the crowd, into the cars. The other day while the light was stopped, they were dancing in front of all the cars," she said.

"It is really dangerous, especially with the snow that we had. They're getting a bit more aggressive."

Bylaw manager David Gazley (gaze-lee) says the changes will target behaviour that makes people feel unsafe.

"Obviously we don't want to make criminals out of panhandlers, they have a right to earn a living. A lot of what we're talking about here has to deal with folks who are actually contributing to or enabling the problem," he said.

"A lot of the rules within a panhandling bylaw will be about setting up perimeters, perhaps where liquor is easily purchased. Anywhere near banks, where money is readily available as well. So we're trying to avoid some of those situations."

Staff also reported on three new enforcement areas drawn up last fall, which split the city into a north, a south, and an east zone.

That method has allowed the same officers to patrol the same areas, which has allowed them to better understand the neighbourhood, and cut down on driving by 14%.

Councillor Gail Given says this works both short term and long term.

"In my estimation, I'm thinking that's a really good direction to go, because I'm assuming the officers would become more familiar with specifically their zone," she said.

"Potentially long term, its beyond just reducing kilometres, but having folks maybe be area experts, and able to recognize problems a little more quickly when they know their own zone."

Bylaw Services is staffed by 11 full-time officers, along with a couple supervisors, a manager, and four seasonal officers who work in the summer.