The Abbotsford Police Department (APD) is planning to come down harder on repeat offenders this year as part of an initiative called “The Three E’s” – education, encouragement and enforcement.
Police Chief Mike Serr said the idea is to first provide resources and support to offenders and, if they continue to be a problem, to more strictly enforce the law.
“We’re going to really start pushing people, encouraging people and getting them the help they need … If you fail to follow through and you fail to take the help we’re providing you … we really want to start holding people accountable,” he said.
Serr said a small percentage of people in the community are committing a disproportionate amount of crime, and it can be frustrating to see these individuals continue to be a problem.
He said a better approach was needed to not only connect these people to resources in the community, but to ensure that, if they continue to commit crimes, there are more rigid consequences.
Serr said, to that end, the APD will work closely with Crown counsel, for example, for the consideration of charges or the placement of more stringent conditions on the individual.
But it is hoped that many people can be helped before it gets to that point.
Deputy Chief Brett Crosby-Jones said a “hub model” has been established that includes the APD’s homelessness outreach coordinator, a mental health officer, an operational support constable, and a sergeant.
They will be based out of the community policing office.
It is also hoped that Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service and the City of Abbotsford will be involved.
The idea is that the group works as a team, along with partner agencies in town, to assist an individual – for example, a repeat shoplifter or a panhandler.
Officers would meet up with that person and try to get a sense of why they are committing their crimes – many have addiction or mental-health issues – and then link them to the programs or services that could assist them.
“Our first thing is we’re going to try to help educate people about what programs are available to them, because Abbotsford does have a wide variety of programs. It’s amazing what we have,” Serr said.
The person would be referred to programs such as Project Angel – which pairs individuals with past addiction or homelessness issues with those currently going through them – and then tracked to see if additional resources are needed.
Crosby-Jones said establishing these tighter, more-consistent connections could make the difference for some people.
“They’ll develop relationships with that person, and it’s hard to let down a friend than to let down a stranger,” he said.
Alternatives for people who seem serious about change could include restorative justice, where an offender meets with the person or people they have victimized as a way to apologize for their crime and for both sides to heal.
Serr said many of the offences being committed by repeat offenders are “survival crimes.” For example, he said someone with a $100-a-day drug habit needs to steal approximately $1,000 worth of goods each day.
“If we can divert 10 people who are doing that, the change we can make is significant,” Serr said.
“That’s what we’re trying to do – just break a cycle and try to find solutions that will stop the long-term effects that we’re seeing in our community.”