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Retiring Abbotsford police chief looks back on 2021 floods, on-duty death

Mike Serr speaks at annual Breakfast with the Chief fundraiser
Outgoing Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr spoke at the annual Breakfast with the Chief fundraiser on Wednesday morning at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Centre. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)

Outgoing Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr reflected Wednesday morning (Oct. 25) on how the community has helped pull the department through some challenging times over the last few years.

Serr delivered his final public speech during the annual Breakfast with the Chief – Crime is Toast fundraiser at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Centre.

Serr is retiring, and his successor Colin Watson – currently the deputy chief of the Victoria Police Department – steps into the role on Nov. 2.

Serr recalled the difficult days the Abbotsford Police Department has faced, starting – when he was deputy chief – with the line-of-duty death of Const. John Davidson on Nov. 6, 2017.

One week later, Serr lost his 19-year-old son Aiden in a car crash in Maple Ridge.

“My first instinct was to pack up and run and hide, and just go away. But what I learned is, through an incredibly supportive community, that we are stronger together,” he said.

Serr said, when he became chief five years ago, one of the first things his team did was to change their vision statement from “Protected with Pride” to “Strength in Community.”

Serr said that vision helped guide the APD through some other trying times, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the November 2021 floods.

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He recalled standing on Highway 1 in Abbotsford as the flood waters surged in.

“We were in two feet of water and just watching and hearing on the radio the courage of so many people that came to support each other,” Serr said.

“I watched, with Mayor (Henry) Braun at the time, neighbours helping neighbours, strangers helping strangers … watching police officers on their days off … with their family sandbagging to help the community. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

During the Breakfast with the Chief, Serr also provided some updated crime statistics, saying Abbotsford “lost a little bit of ground” in 2023 over the previous year in terms of violent crimes.

He said the city’s rate is currently at about 9.8 per 1,000 population, but is still lower than some other cities.

On the plus side, Serr said Abbotsford is no longer considered “the murder capital of Canada” as it was more than 10 years ago due to its high number of gang-related killings.

He said, in the last three years, no murders in Abbotsford can be directly linked to the B.C. gang conflict.

“The reality is people know that, in this community, we’re not going to tolerate any type of gang activity, and we’re very, very aggressive,” Serr said.

He said the slight rise in Abbotsford’s violent crime rate is due to “street-level violence” – much of it related to mental health, addictions and homelessness.

Serr said the department is addressing the issue through projects such as the Violent Offender Initiative. He said the project identified 14 repeat violent offenders in the community, and 12 of them are now in custody.

“A small group of people do a disproportionate amount of the violent crime, so we’re on that. We know who they are,” Serr said.

He said another initiative, Project Spotlight, identifies key areas where violent crime is occurring and places extra patrols in those areas.

But Serr said the biggest complaints received by the APD and the city are in relation to driving behaviours, including excessive speed and dangerous and impaired driving.

“We’re losing more people to motor vehicle incidents, pedestrians being killed, than we are to homicides – and it’s pretty scary,” he said.

He said the APD’s traffic section is now fully staffed and they are looking at adding “another couple of people” to the unit.

Serr said residential break-ins are another concern, most of them being committed by a small number of people. He said one individual was recently charged with 14 such crimes.

He said another prevalent issue is assaults of police officers. Last week alone, Serr said two officers were bitten and one was kicked in the head.

“Policing is more dangerous than ever. When I was a young officer walking the Downtown Eastside in 1990, we did not have this level of assault, disrespect or incidents against a police officer.”

Serr concluded his remarks by saying it has been a privilege to serve Abbotsford.

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“It’s been an absolute honour. I’m humbled to have had the opportunity to be the chief of police and work with so many incredible people … Everyone in our department is just so committed (and) passionate to taking care of being the best police department they can to you,” he said to a standing ovation.

Chief Designate Colin Watson also spoke, introducing himself to the community, and thanking Serr for his years of dedication.

“You’ll be missed. I keep getting told by everybody that I’ve got huge shoes to fill so I will do my very, very best,” he said.

Funds raised at Breakfast with the Chief support the Abbotsford Police Foundation in providing programs and equipment not covered by the APD annual budget.

Past projects funded include a John Deere “Gator” ATV, armoured vests for police dogs, the restoration of a vintage police cruiser, and a drone for use in investigations.