Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr answers audience questions during the annual Crime is Toast breakfast Wednesday morning at Tradex. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)

Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr answers audience questions during the annual Crime is Toast breakfast Wednesday morning at Tradex. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)

Officers have worked ‘incredibly hard’ to tackle gang issues, says Abbotsford Police chief

Mike Serr addresses gangs and more at annual Crime is Toast breakfast

Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr says he is proud of the work that his officers have done to disrupt and reduce gang violence in the community this year.

Serr, speaking Wednesday morning at the annual Crime is Toast breakfast at Tradex, said the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) has worked “incredibly hard” to address gang issues.

There were seven murders in Abbotsford directly related to the Lower Mainland gang conflict in 2017 and five last year. So far in 2019, there have been none.

“I really believe we made a huge dent in (gang violence) this year … That being said, we know that can change in a second. We saw that again (Tuesday) night,” Serr said, referring to the incident in which a man in his 20s was shot at a local gas station.

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Serr said the APD takes a “four-pillar” approach to gang violence: suppression, prevention, intervention and community engagement.

He credited the gang enforcement, major crime and drug enforcement units with working hard to let gangsters know that Abbotsford is “not a place to do business” and that they’re being watched.

“We’ve put some real good gangsters in jail,” Serr said.

He said the APD was recently notified that it will be receiving $525,000 in provincial government funding for a community safety officer. Serr said this individual will “help bring together all the partners to disrupt gang violence.”

Although gang violence is down, Serr said violent crime overall is up 13 per cent in Abbotsford this year compared to 2018.

However, he said this compares to a 70 per cent increase in Maple Ridge, 60 per cent in the Upper Fraser Valley (including Chilliwack and surrounding areas), 53 per cent in Langley, and 30 per cent in Mission.

Serr said much of the violence in Abbotsford is of the “street-level type,” including assaults and incidents involving marginalized people.

He said property crime also continues to be a challenge in Abbotsford, but the APD has been successful in dropping residential break-ins by 28 per cent, commercial break-ins by eight per cent, and theft from autos by 24 per cent.

However, Serr said there has been a 24 per cent increase in other types of break-ins – such as from garages, sheds and secure compounds – and shoplifting has been “going through the roof.”

Serr referred to these as “survival crimes,” which are often committed by people with drug addictions or who have other challenges such as mental-health issues.

He said another challenge continues to be homelessness, and the APD recently hired a homelessness coordinator to work with other agencies and programs to assist people in need.

RELATED: Abbotsford Police Department asks city for two new officers

“Being homeless is not against the law. That being said, we do know that it’s frustrating for a lot of people in this community and the ancillary crime and stuff that goes along with homelessness, and we are very aware of that.”

Serr also addressed the issue of road safety, saying that 10 people – including pedestrians – died last year in vehicle-related collisions. Another 10 people have died so far this year.

A total of 4,200 traffic tickets were issued in 2018, compared to 6,200 so far in 2019.

“We’re not looking for stats … We’re not looking for cash grabs. We are trying to ticket the most dangerous offences – distracted driving, excessive speeding, going through red lights, school zones – and we can still do more,” Serr said.

He said the installation of more cameras in high-risk traffic locations is under consideration.

The annual Crime is Toast breakfast is hosted by the Abbotsford Police Foundation, a charitable organization that funds APD programs and projects not covered by its operating budget.

This year’s funds are going towards a $190,000 police training simulator.