The Abbotsford News published a special tribute to first responders in its Thursday, April 9th edition, with a focus on police, paramedics, firefighters, and doctors and nurses. The story below focuses on the Abbotsford Police Department. Click here to see the whole section.
The top focus for the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) during the COVID-19 pandemic is maintaining essential police services while keeping its officers and community safe, says Chief Mike Serr.
Serr said the APD’s slogan “Strength in Community” is crucially significant at this time.
“I’ve always been just so impressed with how community-oriented Abbotsford is and how everybody supports each other,” he said.
“I think when we come through this, and there are still some difficult times ahead, it’s going to be really important that that support continues.”
The APD currently employs more than 220 officers and 80 civilian staff, and Serr said the pandemic only affected those numbers slightly at the start of the crisis.
He said there were “never more than 30 people” who were away from their duties – for example, because they had returned from a trip away and self-quarantined before coming back to work.
But Serr said no members have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
He said several steps have been put in place to protect front-line officers and limit their contact with the public.
Serr said, whenever possible, reports are taken over the phone or by text or video, saving the in-person attendance to “priority one and priority two” calls.
“We will always attend the most serious calls, but a call that may not require a physical response, we’ve changed how we attend,” he said.
“So, for example, if someone had their shed broken into and there may not be any evidence, we can look to call that person … as opposed to actually physically attending.”
Serr said officers are practising social-distancing as much as possible while investigating incidents. They are also taking precautions such as the use of hand sanitizer, wipes and face masks, particularly when they must come in close contact with someone – for example, during an arrest.
The APD also has a decontamination process in place for instances when officers come in contact with someone who is symptomatic.
Serr said the department has also made some changes to how and where people are working. Some staff are now working from home, while some police units – such as school liaisons – have been collapsed and more officers assigned, for example, to patrol.
Serr said that, unlike some other jurisdictions, Abbotsford so far has not seen a predicted increase in crimes such as domestic violence, commercial break-ins and vehicle thefts.
“We’re watching our analytics very closely, and it’s interesting that our crime rates are going down during this, and it does make sense – more people are at home, and breaking into cars and residential properties is more challenging,” he said.
Serr said the APD is also keeping a close eye on how the illegal-drug situation could affect crime rates in the coming weeks and months. As drugs become more difficult to acquire and prices rise for users, there could be a corresponding hike in property crime and thefts.
Serr said the APD is continuing to connect with homeless and marginalized people through its street outreach response team to help them find “pathways of support.”
But some other APD programs have currently been put on hold, including its gang-intervention initiatives – due to the face-to-face contact they require with individuals and their families – and the Junior Police Academy.
Serr said the APD, meanwhile, is continuing to find other ways to connect with the community.
This includes a series of 7 p.m. drive-by thank-yous that officers – along with Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service and BC Ambulance members – have made to front-line workers at Abbotsford Regional Hospital, local care homes, the COVID-19 testing site, grocery stores and other locations.
The APD is also active on its social media platforms, posting positive messages and encouraging and sharing youth artwork in support of front-line workers.
Serr said it’s important for the APD to have a strong community presence at all times, particularly during a crisis such as this.
“Our community needs to see us and they need to hear from us. They need to be reassured that they’re protected and safe (because) there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now,” he said.
Serr said it has been encouraging to see the vast majority of the public following the social-distancing and self-isolation guidelines put in place by the health authorities.
He said the APD looks forward to continuing to serve the community through the pandemic and beyond.
“We’re very proud, in these very difficult times, to be supporting and serving our community, and we know they need us, and I can promise you, we will be there for them. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that we keep everybody safe,” he said.