The Abbotsford Police Department (APD) has asked the city to fund two new officers in its 2019 budget.
The officers would comprise a homeless co-ordinator and a fifth member for the gang crime unit (GCU), which formed a year ago.
Police Chief Mike Serr addressed city council on Feb. 20, saying the APD’s operating budget proposal for this year reflects a $2.3-million increase over 2018.
Of the overall 2.98 per cent tax hike in the city’s proposed budget, the APD’s funding increase accounts for 1.19 percentage points.
In addition to the two officers, costs factored into the APD budget hike consist of salary contracts, the new employer health tax, software licensing, upgrades to the Human Resource Information System, a part-time civilian position in finance, and a yearly psychological assessment for each APD member.
Serr said a new officer is needed for the GCU as the department continues to make gang violence in the community its top priority for 2019.
He said there were seven murders in Abbotsford directly related to the Lower Mainland gang conflict in 2017 and five last year – all from the South Asian community.
“We are working very hard to disrupt and turn around that trend,” Serr said.
“We are not simply going to arrest our way out of the gang violence. We have to take it from a multi-pronged, multi-faceted approach.”
The GCU was formed in January 2018, with three constables and one sergeant. Serr said the unit’s role is the prevention, suppression and intervention of gang-related crime in partnership with community engagement.
“An additional officer who will help us meet our goals and objectives, I think, is critical for us to help disrupt gang violence,” he said.
Serr said the APD has also applied for $6 million in federal funding over five years, and that money, if approved, would be used for a public safety officer and more officers for the youth squad and GCU.
Serr said also needed this year is an officer who would serve as a full-time homeless co-ordinator, working closely with the city and other agencies over matters such as housing and safety concerns.
He said having officers show up to deal with issues one by one is not a suitable long-term solution.
“Not having a full-time person who’s connected, to help long-term systemic changes, has been problematic.”
Serr said such a role would take the workload away from other officers and provide better service to citizens – for example, over the issue of homeless camps.
Also allotted into the APD’s proposed budget is $52,500 so that every officer and staff member can have a psychological assessment done over the next year.
Serr said this was a goal of former police chief Bob Rich, who retired last fall after a 38-year policing career, including 10 years in Abbotsford.
Rich was vocal in his belief that officers should be able to ask for help if they are struggling with their mental health, particularly in the wake of the 2016 double stabbing at Abbotsford Senior Secondary School and the 2017 line-of-duty killing of Const. John Davidson.
“This will have a long-term cost savings for us,” Serr said of they assessments. “This work is very demanding, very stressful and having people off because of stress leaves and stress injuries is very challenging for us.”
Serr said the APD’s current roster of 219 officers means there is about one officer for every 665 people.
This puts Abbotsford right in the middle when compared to eight other communities in 2016 (the most recent data available). Chilliwack, Langley, Mission and Saanich have a higher ratio, while New Westminster, Delta, Vancouver and Victoria are lower.
City council will vote on the budget later in the spring.