Thunder Bay·Superior Morning

Nishnawbe-Aski police chief retires with 'no regrets' after over 30 years in policing

After over 30 years in policing, the chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service (NAPS), Terry Armstrong, is hanging up his badge.

Terry Armstrong started in Pikangikum in 1984

Nisnawbe-Aski police Chief Terry Armstrong, is retiring after more than 30 years in policing.

After nearly 40 years in policing, the chief of the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service is hanging up his badge.

Terry Armstrong started out serving as a First Nation constable in Pikangikum in northwestern Ontario in 1984 and worked in nearly every aspect of policing before becoming an Ontario Provincial Police officer and then the police chief with NAPS.

"It's been pretty eventful ...[and] back then things were a little different," Armstrong explained, speaking of his earliest days in policing, in Pikangikum. "I went in with no training. They dropped me off on a float plane and said you'll have one partner."

Unfortunately, Armstrong said his partner was leaving for two weeks just as he arrived.

"They basically gave me a baton and a set of handcuffs and said 'go to it.'"

After four months on the job, Armstrong said he finally got the training he needed.

"Things have changed a lot [and] nobody goes out in the field anymore without any training," Armstrong said.

He said throughout the years that, "First Nation policing has been the best experience," which is why he has come full circle: starting his career in a fly-in remote community and returning to serve for NAPS.

Improvements for the future

Prior to heading Canada's largest Indigenous police service, Armstrong also served in the Canadian Armed Forces and participated in NATO missions in Norway and Cyprus, where he served as a detachment commander as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission.

Since he took the helm of the organization in 2013, Armstrong said that NAPS — which polices 35 communities across Nishnawbe Aski Nation territory in northern Ontario — has experienced challenges as it has struggled with funding.

But he says changes and improvements are expected to come in the next few years.

"Recently we signed a deal ... that will allow us to get 79 officers over the next five years," Armstrong said.

"This is on top of the 17 that we got in the last year-and-a-half, so 96 officers probably over a seven year period is going to be very substantial."

The Nishnawbe-Aski police detachment in Eabametoong First Nation opened in 2015 and is one of the few modern police buildings in the 35 communities served by NAPS. (Jody Porter/CBC)

"The stories you hear about officers working alone are real and it shouldn't have been happening," Armstrong said.

In the last few years, Armstrong said they've been working on getting First Nations policing included in the Police Services Act.

"We're taking the same training ... [and] we meet the same standards," Armstrong said. "[So] we welcome the oversight because we've actually been lining ourselves up and doing the same things that all of the other police forces have been doing for a number of years now, hoping for that inclusion."

He said although he's had some difficulties hiring new officers at times, the ones that are committed and willing to take on the challenge are "pretty unique people that bring a unique set of skills with them."

Armstrong said his proudest achievement has been the recently signed deal to increase the complement of NAPS officers.

"I've been so fortunate to have lots of good opportunities and working with a lot of great people [that] I have no regrets."