Even before last week’s murder of Const. John Davidson, 2017 was already shaping up to be an unhappy one for crime-fighting in Abbotsford, Police Chief Bob Rich told council last Wednesday.
From increased gang violence and skyrocketing overdose deaths to property crime problems and traffic fatalities, the year has had few bright spots, Rich said during a budget presentation that included a request for money to add four new officers.
“This year has not gone well,” said Rich, after he and council paid tribute to Davidson and the work done by other officers. “There are some things that aren’t working well enough here.”
Over the next hour, Rich presented a range of statistics that underscored multiple challenges facing his department.
Among an uptick in murders have been six gang-related homicides, he said. More than 40 people have died from drug overdoses. Property crime rates are on the rise, unlike in neighbouring communities. Eleven traffic fatalities have been recorded. Recruitment is proving difficult.
“There are some things that aren’t working well enough here,” he said.
Many of the city’s crime statistics had been dropping for much of the last decade, only for the numbers to plateau in recent years and, now, turn in the other direction.
On the gang front, Rich said the problem is a regional one that requires efforts by a range of policing forces. He said most of the leaders in the conflict live in Vancouver and surrounding cities.
“We primarily have foot soldiers living in our community,” he said. “They might be doing the shooting, but they’re not the ones … giving the orders.”
Rich said the gangs involved in the violent conflict are also involved in selling the fentanyl and related drugs that have killed more than 40 people this year in Abbotsford.
He said police have arrested 32 people for selling fentanyl-laced drugs for this year.
“They were absolutely peddling death,” he said.
Rich stressed the need for both more treatment options for drug users, and for more work on the prevention side of the equation, particularly in the province’s schools. Rich had spoken in late October about the need for more prevention-related education. But Rob Fleming, the province’s minister of education, later suggested school districts have the resources they need.
Rich pushed back against that on Wednesday.
“I’ve been discouraged with the response from, for example, the minister of education … where he said what we were doing in schools was already just fine,” Rich said. “I respectfully completely and utterly disagree. We are going to have to do things differently and that includes in the school.”
Rich also questioned whether the region has all the mental health resources it needs, pointing out that Fraser Health’s per capita funding is less than other health authorities.
“Do they have enough money to provide the services they should around mental health and addictions?” he asked. “I would argue they don’t.”
Road safety was also an issue, with 11 fatalities recorded so far this year, higher than the average of eight.
Internally, Rich said he has been focusing on the need to address high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder among police officers. Last week’s shooting only confirms the need to provide support to officers.
“We can’t break people in half and send people out to pasture at the end of their career.”
Recruiting has also been a challenge, he said, although the force has been able to hire officers who used to be with the RCMP.
“When we hire a police officer and bring him in or her in and provide that person with a clean new uniform, a new firearm, the proper bulletproof vest and a well-equipped police car, they’re like, ‘We didn’t have that,’ ” he said.
Rich is asking for council to approve a budget that would provide funding for four new officers. That’s part of a plan to create a gang enforcement unit focused on family and youth intervention, curfew checks and intel gathering. That would be part of a three per cent total increase in the department’s budget.
Rich’s presentation was one of several during three days of budget meetings. Each department head presents council with their proposed budget. Such budgets are frequently revised before being officially adopted by the city in the spring.