(Alex Lemmon photo)                                Serr with his team.

(Alex Lemmon photo) Serr with his team.

OCOP: ‘Together we are stronger’

Mike Serr is taking part in the Canadian Police Memorial Ride to Remember.

Every year the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News profiles influential and interesting people in the community, and there was no shortage yet, again. From a new chief of police to a first-time author to a gun shop owner, read about their personal stories in this year’s Our Community, Our People, starting today.

Mike Serr is bent, but not broken.

So he pedals on.

Serr will take part in the Canadian Police Memorial Ride to Remember at the end of September, just after he officially becomes chief of the Abbotsford Police Department.

The ride takes place the last Sunday of every September, to honour those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their community. B.C. has a ride. The national one is four days, 800 kilometres, from the Toronto region to Ottawa.

The Abbotsford Police Department was asked to enter a team in the latter.

Serr in one of 10 members taking part.

They had team jerseys made. On the front is a tribute to fallen Abbotsford Const. John Davidson, who was shot and killed in the line of duty last November.

“We remember,” reads the front of the jersey,” with Davidson’s badge numbers from Abbotsford and North Umbria – his department in the U.K. – below the letters.

Then just days before Davidson’s funeral, Serr lost his son Aiden, 19, who died in a single-vehicle crash along Lougheed Highway in Maple Ridge.

“Which was just an unbelievably horrible moment in my life.”

Serr still struggles every day with the loss of his son. But he was buoyed by the support of family, friends and police.

“When we lost Aiden, our house was never empty. For the first two weeks, we had people, 50 people – I mean, there were days we had 70 people in our house, because we kept the door open, and the community came in droves to support Kirsten and I,” Serr said of he and his wife.

“Everyone was so compassionate. I will never forget that.”

Within a week, Serr was out running. It helped clear his head.

That time alone helped him reflect, to manage his emotions.

Cycling does the same.

“It helps me re-centre.”

He had to find his own pathway, something he tries to help others do, and which makes up a lot of his police work.

Serr’s career in policing began in Vancouver after he earned a criminology degree from SFU. He has seen much in his time, including the Stanley Cup riot in 1994.

“I was on the ground when the riot erupted, in ’94, at the corner of Robson and Thurlow.”

He’ll never forget that moment.

“The energy of the crowd was just building and building and building,” he said.

“You could just feel it was going to go, and finally, when that switch flipped – and I remember specifically, someone fell off a power line (someone climbed up on a power line and fell) – we knew that was it. We were in trouble. Then it was literally three hours, four hours of complete mayhem.”

But what amazed him was the teamwork, to be working alongside his “brothers and sisters” – through all the tear gas – to bring civility back to the city.

“Everyone had bangs and bruises, but it was quite an experience.”

While in Vancouver, he worked extensively on the Downtown Eastside.

“It really gave me an understanding of people who are struggling with substance abuse and addiction, just to hear their stories, for me was really interesting. I used to love walking the beat, meeting people and talking to them. I loved to hear their stories and their pathway to how they got to the Downtown Eastside.”

They were all different.

People were struggling for various reasons.

“It’s a health issue, and we really need to treat it that way.”

He learned that arresting people for their drug abuse was not making them better.

Serr worked for the VPD for 25 and a half years, much of the latter part on various task forces and teams dealing with organized crime. He developed the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit and was the sergeant in charge of the B.C. municipal undercover program, working major crime files, such as a series of arsons related to the Bacon brothers.

He worked undercover in Abbotsford for a year, when he got to meet dedicated members of that police department.

Then a recruiter told him about a deputy chief position opening with Abby police.

Initially, Serr declined to apply. He loved working in Vancouver.

But he was approached again, and after some thought, did apply.

He liked the forward-thinking approach to policing in Abbotsford. He liked the community.

Serr also loves a challenge.

“I love the chase.”

And he’s willing to try new approaches, or develop them.

“What I really like about Abbotsford is the community really wants to work together to solve problems.”

In Abbotsford, he helped form a collaborative opioid working group, with representatives from first responders, the city and Fraser Health, as well as community groups.

Overdoses fell from 52 in 2017 to 18 so far this year.

“So we have seen a decrease because of a bunch of different strategies.”

And now Serr is part of new pilot program, Project Angel. It involves volunteers with life experience or who understands paths to recovery to meet with people who have overdosed.

“It’s about making connections and identifying pathways.”

Fraser Health will try to help people get into detox or treat them with methadone or suboxone.

“So there’s not one right tool for every person – multiple tools.”

He recognizes that Maple Ridge has some of the same challenges as Vancouver and Abbotsford, struggling with homelessness and drug addiction.

“We will not solve this problem by ourselves. The police department is not going to solve drug addiction by itself. It needs to be a collaborative effort.”

Serr is also chair of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police Drug Advisory Committee, and has presented to the Senate about marijuana legalization, about organized crime, about giving police tools to do their jobs and keep youth safe.

“We all understand, as police chiefs, it’s going to be legalized, and I think, if we do it right, with smart and measured approaches, we can actually make a difference.”

The new tool that is being proposed, an oral screening device, doesn’t give quantitative results.

It only says you have marijuana, or other drugs, in your system. But not how much, said Serr.

“It’s only a small piece of a bigger picture.”

It’s not going to end drug use.

Serr said communities aren’t going to police or treat themselves out of the opioid epidemic.

“You can’t just take someone to a bed.”

Serr said relationships need to be built with those needing help, to assist them in finding a pathway to better health, to support them.

Serr was amazed at how Abbotsford residents supported the police department following Davidson’s death. Calls came in non-stop.

“‘What do you need?’’

People brought the officers food and flowers.

“The community of Abbotsford was unbelievable. When we needed them the most, they were absolutely there for us.”

On the day of Davidson’s funeral, other departments policed Abbotsford, and didn’t bill the city.

Davidson used to cycle, taking part in the annual Cops for Cancer ride. Serr remembers Davidson telling him, a month before he was killed, how excited he was about the ride, to help young cancer patients, how much he enjoyed the camaraderie of being part of a team and going to the different events.

“I remember feeling the passion and energy he felt when he spoke of the ride, so when I’m out taking part in this event, with all the other officers, I’ll remember those pictures of John in his riding gear and how much that meant to him, to have that opportunity to give back to the community, and to do something as part of a team,” Serr said of the Ride to Remember.

In May, Serr was named the new chief of the Abbotsford Police Department, as of Oct. 1. Chief Const. Bob Rich retires on Sept. 30 after 10 years with the APD.

The department has more than 215 officers, over 100 civilian staff and 80-plus volunteers.

Serr said it’s a strong department with good people and a supportive community.

He will continue to focus on reducing gang violence and helping end drug overdose deaths.

He is excited about the challenge, one he feels equipped for.

Last year, when Const. Davidson died, then his son, Serr’s life changed.

“You never heal from this. You are changed forever.”

He coped by going for a run, or a ride. Sports and fitness have always been part of his life, from playing soccer and football as a youth, and still hockey and lacrosse today, to going on hikes or trail runs. Being physically active helps him manage his feelings.

Still, when he has a difficult time, when he’s thinking of Aiden, he goes for a hard bike ride.

It helps him refocus, on himself and what he needs to be right.

He always tells people, traumatic things happen, they always do, and it’s better to be prepared, to have tools to cope.

“For me, I have those tools – physical fitness and health …

When Const. Davidson passed away, at his funeral, the chief said, in his speech, when members are struggling, to take a knee.

“If you’re hurting, you’ve got to take a knee,” Serr said.

But, he added, that’s half the story.

“You do have to take a knee; you’ve gotta say, ‘I need help.’ But you also need people to help you stand back up, and when you’re knees wobble a bit, to hold you steady.”

For him, those people are fellow police officers, friends and family.

At Christmas, his daughter Kiana gave him a medallion.

Inscribed on it: “Flecti non frangi.”

It means bent, not broken.

That same Latin phrase is on the back of the Abbotsford team’s riding jerseys.

“It means a lot to me,” Serr said.

And to the other members.

“We’ve been through a very, very, very difficult time.”

But they are strong, and together, even stronger.

“I really do believe, when you come together, you are stronger.”