Police Chief Bob Rich addresses the crowd during the third annual Crime is Toast fundraising breakfast on Wednesday at Tradex in Abbotsford. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)

Police Chief Bob Rich addresses the crowd during the third annual Crime is Toast fundraising breakfast on Wednesday at Tradex in Abbotsford. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)

Gangs, drugs and homelessness among key city issues, says police chief

Bob Rich speaks at third annual Crime is Toast fundraiser in Abbotsford

Abbotsford Police Chief Bob Rich emphasized the need for community support in solving issues such as gang crime, the drug-overdose crisis and homelessness during the third annual Crime is Toast fundraiser on Wednesday morning.

Rich addressed the crowd of about 200 at Tradex in Abbotsford, saying those are among the key issues that the community is currently facing.

He addressed the six gang-related murders that have occurred so far this year in the city.

“That’s horrific for a community to be living with that. At some point, we thought we had suppressed the violence that we had going on in ’08 and ’09, but we have a different problem that has arisen,” Rich said.

He said most of the individuals in Abbotsford who are involved in the Lower Mainland gang conflict are the “foot soldiers” – typically, young people who are recruited to sell drugs.

The gang leaders of the two warring groups – primarily of South Asian descent, Rich said – live in other areas such as Vancouver and Surrey.

But he said simply arresting these people and having them do little or no jail time is not a long-term solution.

He said one of the prevention tactics the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) is involved in is the West Abbotsford Youth Working Group – a partnership among several agencies such as the school district, Abbotsford Community Services and the Sikh temples.

Rich said the group is looking at strategies such as after-school programs, parenting support, and mentorship programs.

“Over time, I believe we can truly make a difference with those kids who are making horrible choices. I’d rather do that … than figure out how to arrest one of them or stand over their shot-up dead body on some dark, rainy night,” he said.

Similarly, working groups have been established – or are in the works – to address the opioid crisis, a hike in property crime and homelessness, Rich said.

He said the key is for the community to work together.

“We have some issues to solve … Not all of them are going in the right direction at this moment but we are … going to continue facing into them and we are going to solve them and we are going to do it by helping and caring for the people in Abbotsford.”

The Crime is Toast event was hosted by the Abbotsford Police Foundation to raise money to support APD programs not covered by its operating budget.

Funds raised at this year event will go towards purchasing a drone to assist in crime investigations and for youth programs, including the APD City Basketball Tournament and Youth Making Positive Choices.