DPS had many unsung accomplishments
As a reporter it’s not hard to get caught up in the negative side of a story, especially when it’s continuous coverage. But with every negative there is positive, and that is also worth mentioning or reporting on.
When I think of 2019, there are a few topics that I covered which do stick out for their impact and importance to the Navajo people, but I always come back to my coverage on the Division of Public Safety and its oversight committee. This year tested me in many ways when I covered anything related to this division and its oversight, but more than anything it made me aware of how to handle myself when being harassed while in the midst of reporting.
It also made me realize that no matter how I report the news and even if I have my recordings and notes as evidence, I will always face backlash and criticism for my reporting, and dealing with that is a small price to pay for transparency and truth. But, more importantly this year I was humbled by the support I received from my publisher, editor, copyeditor, fellow reporters and readers while in my own little battles of defending my work and name, and for that I’m grateful.
Looking back at 2019 I noticed some aspects of the Navajo Division of Public Safety had gone unnoticed. These tiny details are pretty significant when you think of Navajo Division of Public Safety, because it means it is being recognized by not how it handles the politics, but by how it is turning around a once fledging division.
Division of Public Safety director Jesse Delmar serves as the President of the National Native American Law Enforcement Association. He also was appointed to serve on the Commission for Native Children.
Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco was elected vice chairman of the Indian Country Law Enforcement Section for the International Association of Chiefs of Police back in March. Navajo Police Lt. Leonard Redhorse III was recently named one of the 40 under 40 awardees during the 2019 International Association of Chiefs of Police. This international recognition is bestowed upon top rising leaders from around the world, exemplifying leadership, dedication, and service to their communities while enforcing the law.
Three Navajo criminal investigators — Samantha Yazzie, Farrell Begay, and Gilbert Yazzie — were recently cross-deputized in order to assist as deputy special agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This cross-deputation gives these three the full authority to make arrests, enforce federal law, conduct affidavits, arrest warrants, and handle case investigations without FBI needing to be present.
The Navajo Fire Department finally received extra funds, from the increased Navajo sales tax, meaning the department could finally purchase new equipment as well as a fleet of fire trucks to replace their aged units that have surpassed the appropriate age of use, and should be retired. But the new fleet, which is expected to make its way to the Navajo Nation in the spring, isn’t just any kind of fire trucks. The new trucks were designed by Navajo Fire Chief Larry Chee and Capt. John Williams, and these designs have garnered interest from other fire departments.
Another success is the Navajo Police Academy, which Francisco found internal funds to establish. In November, the academy graduated its third class of newly minted Navajo police officers to fill vacancies and strengthen the police force. Francisco has always made mention that the officers who come out of the Navajo Police Academy are the future of the Navajo Police Department. So, this academy enables better service, and without the academy it would be impossible to fill the police positions. It’s a long-term benefit that will not be seen immediately, but it’s an essential part to long-term growth.
These are just a few of the distinctions and foresight of which the Navajo Division of Public Safety can be proud and that Navajo readers should take note of since these accomplishments aren’t really celebrated or made known. Actually, it’s the complete opposite. Every time leaders within the Division of Public Safety are criticized for what a few may consider as not performing tasks to a novice’s expectations, outside experts view Navajo public safety, and those who run it, as evolving and making strides.
The strides the Division of Public Safety has made since I began reporting on it and its programs in 2011 are evident. But these changes did not happen overnight. They came from strong, impartial leadership both from the oversight committee and the executive office. The former oversight committee and former Russell Begaye-Jonathan Nez Administration understood that their knowledge of public safety was limited, and they needed to hire the right people to revitalize the division with the experience and expertise that they’d acquired over the years of being in law enforcement.
I feel as though I’ve grown up with the DPS. I can still picture myself sitting in the north conference room of the Council Chamber. As I sat there, everyone got up to leave the meeting. The only ones still sitting (besides myself) were the presenters and the men who made up the oversight committee at the time: Edmund Yazzie, Russell Begaye, Elmer Begay, Duane Tsinigine and Alton Joe Shepherd.
As I sat there in the meeting, someone said to me they were going into “executive session.” I looked blank and said, “OK.” As I sat there a bit longer I asked, “What’s executive session?” Not judging my ignorance, the person simply told me it meant I had to leave so the committee could continue to meet in private with the presenters. So I left.
This was my first committee meeting I had ever covered as a reporter for the Gallup Independent. The first time I stepped foot in the Council Chamber. The first time I met any Council Delegate. I had hit the ground running with this new job.
Fast forward to 2016. No longer green, I started reporting for the Navajo Times and continued to report on the Division of Public Safety and its oversight committee. There were a lot of changes that year, but in a good way. The years of working together and having strong leadership with transparency seemed to be paying off.
But as we are ending 2019, anyone’s guess is as good as mine as to which way leadership will steer the Division of Public Safety in 2020. Hopefully, it will be a route where DPS will continue to progress as they have been. Hopefully.