Gaming officials request Navajo police coverage

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, AZ., February 2, 2012

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The Law and Order Committee will hold a special meeting today at 10 a.m. in the north conference room of the Navajo Nation Council Chamber to discuss placing law enforcement officers at the tribe's casinos.

The discussion is being continued from Monday's committee meeting.

Ray Etcitty, general counsel for the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, told the committee that in 2008 there was a memorandum of agreement for the gaming enterprise to pay for the salaries of two Navajo police officers who would be stationed at Fire Rock Navajo Casino in Church Rock, N.M.

But since then police presence at the casino has been declining and a new MOA is needed and should include Flowing Water Navajo Casino in Hogback, N.M., and Northern Edge Navajo Casino in Upper Fruitland, N.M., he said.

The gaming enterprise has been working with the Navajo Nation's Department of Justice, the Division of Public Safety and the president's office to form such an agreement, Etcitty said.

The gaming enterprise would provide $432,000 a year to pay for police services at the three casinos.

The amount would be split into monthly payments of $18,000 to cover services at each of them.

About 1.5 million people visited Fire Rock in 2011, according to the gaming enterprise.

Some of those visits resulted in incidents of public intoxication, vehicle accidents, thief and domestic violence.

Each incident that occurs on casino grounds is documented by security but a daily police presence could curb those events, Etcitty said.

Committee member Russell Begaye (Shiprock) requested a copy of the MOA and asked if the police officers would be restricted to the vicinity of casinos.

Etcitty said the gaming enterprise cannot restrict officers and understands that an officer could be called to an emergency at any time.

"We are not dictating what they should and should not do," he said. "They have their own protocols, their own procedures."

Committee Chair Edmund Yazzie (Church Rock/Iyanbito/Mariano Lake/Pinedale/Smith Lake/Thoreau) expressed concern over the possibility that criminal activity could climb if no law enforcement is stationed at the casinos.

"It is a time bomb ready to happen and we don't want that," Yazzie said.

In other committee action, the delegates also heard a report from Regina Holyan, an attorney for the Navajo Nation's Department of Justice, about agreements to cross-deputize law officers.

Holyan told the committee that DOJ is still waiting to hear from Navajo County on a draft agreement that was sent last year.

Another agreement that was sent to Cibola County was lost in the mail so a second copy was sent two weeks ago and is under review by the sheriff's office.

The San Juan County, Utah, Sheriff's Office remains interested in forming an agreement, Holyan reported, but its counterpart in New Mexico is not interested in an agreement.

The tribe currently has three cross-deputization agreements in place with Apache County, McKinley County and Socorro County and a 1981 agreement with the state of New Mexico.

In another report, Public Safety Director John Billison and Dawn Yazzie, an assistant to President Ben Shelly, told the committee that all vehicles within the division are now insured.

DPS came under criticism after the committee learned in January that 93 vehicles had been uninsured since Oct. 1, 2011, due to unpaid premiums.

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