123-YEAR-OLD SERVICE: Niagara Regional Police Services board agrees to five-year extension
Niagara Parks Police have been granted a new lease on life for at least five years. Officers with the 123-year-old service will be able to continue carrying firearms, under terms of an agreement approved Thursday by the Niagara Regional Police Services board.
“We’re pleased with it, based on what we know,” said Fay Booker, chairwoman of the Niagara Parks Commission, which funds and oversees the police service. “We’re very proud of what the Niagara Parks Police do today. They’ve been doing it extremely well.”
Minister of Community Safety and Corrections Rick Bartolucci has said he’s willing to give the OK to any Parks Police agreement coming from the police services board, including a five-year extension and the thority to carry guns, subject to oversight by the police services board.
“That’s always been the case, that this is a local decision that is made by the police services board,” said Laura Blondeau, a spokeswoman for the minister.
The police board’s request for a five-year extension — made during a closed-door meeting Thursday– comes in the nick of time for the Parks Police.
The service was facing the threat of being disbanded in about two weeks when its existing agreement expires June 13.
“It gives us a period of stability and it continues a good service,” Booker said.
The fate of service has been up in the air for the past 18 months as it has tried to hammer out a new operating agreement.
Officers with the agency are designated special constables by the province and primarily patrol Niagara Parks Commission lands, under an agreement with the NRP.
But since the service’s last agreement expired in 2008, it has received only a series of short-term extensions.
Two main, interconnected issues are to blame for the protracted dispute — the police services board has wanted Parks Police to give up its guns and the board has been concerned the service doesn’t come under the oversight of Ontario’s Special Investigation Unit, a civilian agency that probes incidents of serious injury, death and sexual assault involving police.
Last month Niagara regional council gave Parks Police a show of support, calling on the province to keep the service running. Councillors asked for Parks Police to be designated a standalone service or be granted a five-year extension on its operating agreement.
Regional chairman Peter Partington, who reinforced council’s position during a recent meeting with Bartolucci, said he’s pleased with the police board’s decision on the extension.
“It continues a force that’s been in existence for over 100 years and has done an excellent job,” he said.
“From the point of view of taxpayers of the region, it continues to be a force that will be paid for by Niagara Parks Commission and not the Region.”
The service’s budget of about $3 million annually is covered entirely by the parks commission, which generates its own funding through tourism revenue and doesn’t receive operating dollars from the province or the Region.
Police board acting chairman Doug Martin said police brass need to iron out with the province exactly how the NRP will be responsible for oversight of parks police officers.
“I think both sides are agreeable to an oversight provision, but we have to ensure it fits within the mandate of the police services act, which is what the whole challenge has been,” he said.
In a related decision Thursday, Niagara police board members backed a resolution by a dozen similar boards across Ontario calling on the provincial government to carry out a comprehensive review of special constables.
This article was originally published by: PETER DOWNS , STANDARD