Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr says the department is making headway in addressing issues such as gang violence, property crime and homelessness, but the city is still facing some challenges.
Serr gave an overview of 2020 for the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) during the sixth annual Crime is Toast breakfast on Wednesday morning (Oct. 21). The event, normally drawing a large crowd to Tradex, was held virtually this year.
Serr said this year has presented some unique challenges in terms of COVID-19 and how to keep APD members safe, conversations about systemic racism stemming from the death of George Floyd, and the deaths of five APD members.
But he said the support of the “APD family” and the community has made a “huge difference.”
Serr said amid these challenges he’s proud of the work that the APD has accomplished, including reducing property crime by 25 per cent over 2019.
He said although surrounding communities have also experienced a drop, Abbotsford has the lowest rate per 1,000 people. Serr credits this to factors such as “proactive patrols” and “intelligence-led policing.”
Serr said many of these offences are “survival crimes” related to issues such as homelessness and addiction.
He said the APD has faced a 25 per cent hike in street-level assaults, and the opioid crisis is still a huge concern, resulting in 39 deaths in Abbotsford so far this year.
To that end, Serr said the APD this year introduced its Street Outreach Response Program (SORT), which includes a sergeant and three officers.
SORT Sgt. Kevin Murray said one of the officers reaches out to the homeless population, another focuses on those with mental-heath issues who might also be homeless, and the third helps provide programming support and “initiative development.”
“We need to ensure that we provide proper education and awareness to our homeless and at-risk populations about the various services that can be provided, and that we empower them to reach for those goals … to get them off the streets, get off of drugs,” Murray said.
He said enforcement is the last step in the process.
Sgt. Casey Vinet, who emceed the virtual breakfast, said another priority of the APD this year is the suppression of gang violence and trying to “disrupt the next wave of young people coming up and maybe filling the ranks or spots left in gangs.”
Serr said provincial and federal government funding will provide five full-time officers – starting later this year for a period of three years – for a program called Pathways, which focuses on gang prevention and intervention.
The program includes community engagement, educational programs and intervention efforts.
“We’re not doing just what feels right; we’re doing what is evidence-based and evidence-supported … We’re excited where this is going to go, and I really do believe it’s going to make a difference,” Serr said.
He said traffic issues and collisions continue to be among the biggest concerns of local citizens.
“We continue to challenge and deal with aggressive driving … We’re not looking for stats; we’re trying to change behaviours,” he said.
The Crime is Toast breakfast is held annually by the Abbotsford Police Foundation (APF) to raise money for projects not covered by the APD’s operating budget. Past projects funded by the APF have included armoured vests for police service dogs, a training simulator, a drone, a Gator ATV and the restoration of a 1965 Chevy Biscaynne police cruiser.
This year’s event is not funding any particular project, but donations are still encouraged and can be made online at abbypf.ca.