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Pandemic brings spike in violent crime in Chinle

WINDOW ROCK

A spike in crime in the Central Agency has Navajo Nation Police on alert.

For nearly eight months Navajo Nation Police have been in charge of enforcing public health orders like lockdowns and curfews as the pandemic continues. Since spring, they have also had to deal with Dineh Benally’s hemp farms, all of this while still responding to everyday emergency calls.

Now a new issue is the recent spike in crime in the Chinle area. The police force is down to 186 commissioned officers due to officers retiring or resigning.

“We have noticed a significant rise in violent crime calls in Chinle area, specifically concentrated around the Piñon area,” said Chief Phillip Francisco, “which was concerning because we haven’t seen the same equal rise in violent calls in any other districts.”

Francisco said overall the pandemic seems to be causing a decrease in crime, at least by 60% to 70%, because of lockdowns. But as other communities stay at this low level, calls reporting crimes have increased in Chinle District.

“We are seeing stabbings, drive-by shootings, shootings, we have some homicides just to the point to where it is very concerning,” said Francisco. “We put together a task force with coordination with Apache County and our officers and criminal investigators to target that area with high-visibility enforcement.

“We also see that trend,” he said, “it’s not just individual people doing this once, it’s usually the same person or same groups involved in different crimes and they keep doing it.”

As an example, Francisco said on Oct. 7 calls reported a homicide at the Piñon junction where the victim had multiple gunshot wounds, a stabbing on Highway 191 and another stabbing in Round Rock.

On Oct. 10, there was an arson, a sexual assault, and then a battery on a police officer who was investigating a child abuse call.

“That’s just a sample of three days,” said Francisco. “Other districts aren’t sending me this stuff. They have incidents here and there, but there is something like this everyday happening in the Chinle District … it’s very concerning.”

Having hoped that the Dineh Benally hemp farm issue would be resolved by now (it isn’t) Francisco said he couldn’t wait much longer to start Chinle District’s Operation Guardian Shield to address the crime wave. The task force started last Friday.

Over the past weekend Chinle officers have responded to or initiated 108 incidents where the officers made traffic stops, checked on suspicious activity/persons/vehicles or responded to calls for service, as they were the closest officers in the area:

  • 62 traffic stops with 12 citations issued and 50 released with no citations (warning for minor infractions, suspicious activity or possible impaired driver found to be sober);
  • 14 arrests;
  • 5 offense reports;
  • 27 minor incident reports closed as assistance rendered or no contact made.

These numbers exceed those of Tuba City and Window Rock on the same days.

On Oct. 17 and 18 incidents in the Chinle District included: a suicide in Lukachukai; a person threatening people with a weapon in Rough Rock; and a stabbing in Wheatfields. The stabbing victim was very intoxicated and did not know who stabbed him.

Then there was a call of a person trying to stab his sister with a knife in Tsaile. Two people were arrested for disorderly conduct with one of them charged additionally for outstanding warrants.

Also, a 24-year-old female called the Chinle Police Department threatening suicide, saying she had a knife in her possession. Officers responded, located the female and transported her to the hospital emergency room for medical evaluation.

Three officers from Window Rock District had to assist with the task force, but due to shift shortages, two of returned to Window Rock to work their regular shifts on Sunday. Tuba City District initially sent three officers to assist as well but due to shift shortages, one officer returned to Tuba City to work his regular shift both Saturday and Sunday.

Chinle District canceled one day off for those who were supposed to be off during this assignment. Seven officers worked Friday, six officers worked Saturday and seven officers worked Sunday.

“The purpose of this operation was to provide additional assistance to the Navajo Police Department’s Chinle District in providing proactive enforcement of all applicable criminal and traffic laws,” said Sgt. Carlton Jim of the task force, “as well as enforcement of the Navajo Nation Public Health Order in efforts to quell the rise in violent crimes.”

With additional personnel visible in the communities conducting enforcement, people tend to stay home more. This helps keep those who tend to cause problems at home, hindering their ability to freely roam about, causing more grief to others in the communities, said Jim.

“I feel this past weekend operation was a huge success,” said Jim. “There was a significant decrease in violent crimes.”

Francisco said pinpointing the cause of the crimes is something that is overlooked most times. He hypothesized the root could stem from anything, such as the lack of resources or infrastructure in Central Agency. Is there no supervision in the homes? Is it financial issues, is it school, or maybe it was because of the outbreak of COVID in the area?

“There is all these things that we are trying to look at to gather data to see what the problem is,” said Francisco. “We can try to address the crime going on, but to really effect change and reduce that problem we have to take care of what is causing it. Sometimes that’s more difficult to find out.”


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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