Cross-commission agreement reached with San Juan County, Utah

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, March 21, 2013

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A cross-commission agreement between the Navajo Nation and the sheriff's office in San Juan County, Utah was approved Tuesday by the Navajo Nation Council's Budget and Finance Committee.

The agreement had been in development for two years and would allow deputies to assist Navajo police officers in responding to emergency calls.

Council delegates Alton Joe Shepherd (Cornfields/Ganado/Jeddito/Kin Dah Lichíí/Steamboat), Edmund Yazzie (Church Rock/Iyanbito/Mariano Lake/Pinedale/Smith Lake/Thoreau) and Russell Begaye (Shiprock) sponsored the bill. Shepherd and Yazzie, who presented the bill to the committee, encouraged its passage.

During Shepherd's presentation, he noted that when the Council's Law and Order Committee met Feb. 25 at the Monument Valley Visitors' Center in Monument Valley, Utah, they received support for the agreement from the chapters located within the county.

"It's very hard to find a sheriff that is willing to come forward, as well as county commissioners, to come forth and really go forward on this," Shepherd said.

Because the tribe continues to have a low number of tribal police officers to respond to public safety calls, Yazzie said, cross-commission agreements are beneficial to the tribe.

These agreements do work, he said, then added that his opinion was based on his experience working as a deputy with the McKinley County Sheriff's Office.

"This only works when the Navajo Nation police chief and the lieutenants and the sheriff's department work together" Yazzie said. "This is not where the sheriff or state police will go out and harass the people."

Under the agreement, each agency will continue to function as the primary law enforcement in its own jurisdiction and will act as secondary law enforcement when enforcing laws of the other agency in that agency's jurisdiction.

The agreement also calls for tribal police officers to complete an eight-hour training course at the sheriff's office and possess Utah Peace Officers Standards and Training certifications. Deputies must complete a 16-hour training course at the tribe's police academy prior to receiving cross-commission by the Navajo Division of Public Safety.

As with other cross-commissioning agreements, deputies are allowed to respond to emergency calls on tribal lands and have the authority to enforce the tribe's criminal and traffic laws, including conducting searches and making arrests in San Juan County.

Under the arrest and custody procedures, if a deputy arrests a Native American within the reservation boundaries that individual would be transported to the nearest tribal detention facility for booking and informed of their rights under the Navajo Bill of Rights.

If a non-Native suspect were arrested by a tribal police officer, that individual would be taken to a county detention facility for booking and informed of their rights under federal law.

San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge said the agreement would help save lives while acting Navajo Nation Police Chief Steven Nelson said the agencies can work together to continue protecting residents.

Committee vice chair Jonathan Nez (Navajo Mountain/Oljato/Shonto/Ts'ah bii Kin) explained that under amendments to Title 2 of the Navajo Nation Code, the committee has final authority on cross-commission agreements.

Since the Council adopted the Title 2 amendments, agreements have been approved with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Navajo County Sheriff's Office.

Nez represents the Navajo Mountain and Oljato chapters in Utah and recalled that when Eldredge was running for office he mentioned this agreement could be achieved.

The agreement also impacts the way the tribe would implement the recent reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which was signed by President Barack Obama this month.

The VAWA now extends the protection to American Indian and Alaska Native women who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault on tribal lands and gives tribal courts the authority to exercise jurisdiction over non-Natives when the defendant is an established intimate partner of a tribal member and commits an act of domestic violence or violates violence-related protection orders.

"In a way, there's no more excuses when it comes to domestic violence between a Navajo and a non-Navajo," Nez said. "Jurisdictional issues are no longer an excuse with this agreement in place."

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