Vernon restaurant calls for public safety measures after business robbed with needle

The owner of a Vernon fast food restaurant is frustrated after his downtown business was robbed by a man who threatened staff with a needle last week.

Wrap Zone owner Rodney Lee would like to see the city take action to restore a feeling of safety to the area.

“I feel frustrated as a lot of business owners do. I know people, nurses and doctors that are at the hospital that won’t come down Hospital Hill — they don’t go there for their breaks. They aren’t coming to our plaza as much or at all now,” Lee said.

“I hear it all too often. People are a little nervous about what is happening downtown and it is affecting when they come here and how often they come.”

The city said it is taking action on safety by adding more bylaw officers and police.

Watch Below: The owner of the Vernon Wrap Zone speaks out about the recent robbery and the impact safety concerns are having on his business and his staff.

The theft occurred on the evening of Dec. 5 at the Wrap Zone in Fruit Union Plaza, which is across from Polson Park on Highway 6 in Vernon.

Two young staffers were the only ones in the shop when a man dressed in black and wearing a ski mask came in around 6:45 p.m. and asked for money.

“[He] said he had a dirty needle and he showed the needle to them and said he would use it and it was infected,” Lee said.

Lee and police have commended the 17-year-old girl and 21-year-old woman who were working that evening for how they handled the situation.

The staff complied with the man’s request and one handed over cash, and Lee said he “left quietly.”

Although no one was physically harmed, Lee emphasizes that this was not a victimless crime.

He said his employees were rattled by the incident.

“The story will come out that they were unharmed. Well, that’s not true. They might relive this for months, a couple years, who knows,” Lee said.

“Trauma and being scared like that is a silent kind of pain.”

Lee said the safety concerns are both creating extra costs for the plaza which hires private security and hurting businesses because it keeps some customers away.

“I really believe the city has to start doing something for the businesses down here that are being affected with the lack of patrons,” Lee said.

“Customers and patrons are feeling a little insecure… and we have to get that safety feeling back. Whatever they need to do… because we are paying a lot of money on our own and in property taxes to the city. I think it has to be resolved in a timely manner.”

Vernon’s mayor was unavailable for an interview on Wednesday.

However, the city said in a statement that it is taking action after hearing from the community during this fall’s election campaign that the public wants “to see additional investment in public safety.”

The city said Vernon council has approved pilot projects that would create a hotline to remove discarded needles and continue a weekly cleanup program which focuses “on removal of discarded sharps and paraphernalia” among other things.

The city also said it is adding more bylaw and RCMP officers.

“The additional investment by council in public safety combined with the addition of 46 shelter beds and 52 affordable long-term bachelor apartments will help increase community safety,” the city said in its statement.

No one has been arrested in connection with the robbery.

Police continue to investigate and do have surveillance footage of the incident that a video analyst is working with to try and get a better description of the suspect.

RCMP said it is unusual for police to be called to an incident where a needle is used as a weapon or there is a threat of someone using a needle as a weapon.

“In my service, I have seen very little of that occur,” said Vernon RCMP spokesperson Const. Kelly Brett.

“This is the first reported incident to police where we have had a robbery-involved incident where an alleged infected needle has been used and whether that needle even was infected at the time, we will never know that.”

Brett pointed out that virtually anything can be used as a weapon.

The needle was not recovered.

Interior Health, through its partners, distributes needles for harm reduction.

The health authority declined an interview request, citing a lack of evidence the needle used in the commission of this crime was distributed through Interior Health.

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