Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr speaks at the Crime is Toast breakfast Wednesday morning at Tradex. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)

Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr speaks at the Crime is Toast breakfast Wednesday morning at Tradex. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)

New police chief thanks Abbotsford for support following officer’s death

Mike Serr speaks at annual Crime is Toast breakfast about Const. John Davidson

Mike Serr gave his first public speech as Abbotsford’s new police chief on Wednesday morning and thanked the community for its support following the line-of-duty shooting of Const. John Davidson a year ago.

“This community, like I’ve never seen before, came and wrapped your arms around us,” he said during the annual Crime is Toast breakfast at Tradex.

Serr described how the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) on Nov. 6, 2017 received a call just before lunch of “Shots fired! Man with a gun!”

Davidson was among the first officers who rushed to the scene, and he was shot by the suspect.

“I’ve never been so proud of a group of people in my entire life as I watched our police officers very bravely arrest the accused just blocks away in an incredibly high-risk takedown, which involved shots being fired, to manage an incredibly emotional and challenging crime scene to continue to police this community despite the tragedy we just sustained,” Serr said.

He said that within minutes and hours of the shooting, officers from across the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland rushed to Abbotsford to lend a hand.

He said the APD was overwhelmed with the public’s messages of support, condolence cards and gifts of food that immediately flooded the department.

On the day of Davidson’s funeral, Serr said the community was entirely policed by members from outside jurisdictions, and they did not charge “one nickel” for their service.

“You gave us strength, and I can tell you we are stronger as a police department than ever, and we are as committed as a police department as ever,” he said.

Serr, who took over as police chief Oct. 1 from retiring chief Bob Rich, also addressed three key crime issues facing the community: property crime, gangs and the overdose crisis.

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He said there were 7,400 property offences last year, and this year is on pace for 7,700 such offences – an increase of four per cent.

He said the theft of vehicles is down, but the theft from vehicles is “through the roof.”

“The amount of stuff we see that is being left in people’s cars that is stolen is unbelievable,” he said.

In terms of the ongoing gang issues, Serr said a multi-faceted approach is needed that addresses the prevention, intervention, enforcement and disruption of criminal activity.

“There’s no one single approach. We’re not arresting our way out of this. I’m not going to be able to put every gangster in jail and fix this problem,” he said.

Serr said among the ways the APD is tackling the gang issues are the formation of a mentorship program for at-risk youth and a new four-member gang crime unit, with plans to add a fifth person in the new year.

He said the department is addressing the opioid crisis with the development of a program that has never been done in Canada.

Project Angel involves connecting people who have “problematic substance use” with peers who have gone through similar experiences but are now clean and sober.

The Crime is Toast breakfast is held each year by the Abbotsford Police Foundation to raise money for APD programs and equipment not covered by its operating budget.

Past projects supported by the breakfast include bullet-proof vests for police dogs, a Gator ATV for patrolling rural areas, and a drone for use in investigations such as homicides and car crashes.

This year, Serr said the APD hopes to purchase a three-screen training simulator, worth $150,000. The life-sized technology would be placed in the APD building and involves real-life scenarios being played on the screens and having officers react to the situations as if they were real.

Serr said because typical training scenarios require many people, they are held sporadically.

“Policing is incredibly dangerous. I’m committed to making sure we have the best-trained police officers around,” he said.

Donations to the Abbotsford Police Foundation can be made online at abbypf.ca.