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ARPA dollars could hire more police, build substations

WINDOW ROCK

It will take 500 Navajo Nation police officers to sufficiently patrol the entirety of the Navajo Nation, according to an assessment done by Strategy Matter and Public Safety Leadership.

This assessment comprises a comprehensive review of current conditions within the Navajo Police Department including staffing levels, equipment, infrastructure, and training.

Taking 18 months to develop the 120-page document, the consulting team designed a process to include interviews, focus groups, surveys, sector research and more.

Currently there are 239 commissioned law enforcement officers, including 199 patrol officers, and 88 non-commissioned personnel. But with the expansive size of the Navajo Nation, there need to be more officers, the report states, and this starts with recruitment.

Recruitment is a major area of opportunity, according to the document. The NPD should attract and retain the best and most committed young people in the Nation. To reach this goal will require an integrated approach, stated the report.

While some factions in the country are calling for police reform, defunding or abolishment in the wake of a series of shootings of unarmed Black people, this sentiment is not prevalent on the Navajo Nation, states the report.

“In the words of one resident of the Nation, ‘We don’t feel that way about our police because they are our brothers and sisters, our cousins, and our aunts and uncles. They look like us, they think like us, and they live with us.’ This is a strength totally unique to the NPD and one to be leveraged in the development of a more reliable, responsive, and trusted department,” states in the assessment.

During Monday’s Naabik’iyat’i Committee American Relief Fund work session lawmakers discussed what they believe should be done to enhance the Navajo police department. Since this assessment is still only a draft, and not quite finished, lawmakers haven’t seen the results, but when it comes to who should be policing on Navajo some delegates expressed that they and some constituents would rather have state, county or federal officers than a tribal police force.

“You’ve got the Apache County and Navajo County,” said Delegate Kee Allen Begay when discussing a substation at Tachee/Blue Gap he wants built that will accommodate outside police forces as well. “What the community is asking is how can we accommodate other law enforcement to this area? That’s the main purpose of law enforcement, to get assistance from other enforcement.”

Delegate Nathaniel Brown said it’s getting more violent on Navajo, and he had to buy bear spray for his aunts and sisters. He also told them to buy a gun. He floated the idea of having other law enforcement come onto Navajo to do “sweeps,” and passing stricter criminal laws.

Although no American Rescue Place funds have been received by Navajo as of yet, and it’s not known exactly how much the Department of Public Safety will get, one area of conversation was building substations.

In the past, Navajo Police administrators have vehemently gone against this idea because they don’t have enough personnel to man substations. Not to mention, the Shiprock and Window Rock police departments have been ignored to the point that they’re unusable, leaving NNPD to set up shop at an old Shiprock post office. Soon the former Census office will be the home of the department’s Window Rock headquarters.

There are also shovel-ready substation projects in other parts of the Navajo Nation that have not been built, due to lack of dollars.

“I think this is a great plan using the American Rescue Plan or proposed monies coming down to the Navajo Nation,” said Public Safety Director Jesse Delmar.

Listed in the assessment are the weaknesses of the Navajo Police Department. Aside from having dangerously low staffing, facilities such as the Window Rock Headquarters are considered to be in a serious state of disrepair.

Other hindrances listed are challenges with recruitment: money, interest, training, disqualifications, available housing, community perceptions among youth; limitations in data collection and management systems and practices; and an administrative bottleneck in the Navajo Nation government.

Years of underinvestment in the NPD created shortfalls in organization developments and tactics that the current NPD leadership inherited, according to the report, which adds that the effects of a lack of leadership for nearly a decade, with rotating acting chiefs from 2008-2016, is still felt.

The assessment also stated the relationship between NPD and Council is an important area for improved internal communication and shared missions. The relationships are works in progress that demand constant attention from both parties.

Accountability should flow both ways, open dialogue should enhance public safety, and working together should create a foundation of trust, the study advises. If this could actually be possible then more police administrative functions can transfer from Council to police.

“We are in a race with our population,” said Delegate Eugene Tso. “The more not parenting, the more dollars to fight with … as long as we don’t have parenting we will keep on fighting with monies to get more to get more police, more police departments.

Of course the Navajo Police Department isn’t the only entity within the Department of Public Safety in need of funds.

Recently the Department of Corrections closed its facility in Shiprock, and criminal Investigators are currently looking to legislation to pass in order to get $1.2 million from the Unreserved, Undesignated Fund Balance.


About The Author

Arlyssa Becenti

Arlyssa Becenti reports on Navajo Nation Council and Office of the President and Vice President. Her clans are Nát'oh dine'é Táchii'nii, Bit'ahnii, Kin łichii'nii, Kiyaa'áanii. She’s originally from Fort Defiance and has a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. Before working for the Navajo Times she was a reporter for the Gallup Independent. She can be reached at abecenti@navajotimes.com. Follow her on Twitter at @abecenti

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