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Cross-commissioning adds police services for Diné

GALLUP

With a shortage of certified Navajo Police officers, there are benefits to cross-commissioning with outside law enforcement agencies.

In addition, tribal police already possess limited authority over non-Natives on reservations. Cross-commissioning with outside agencies can provide help and added jurisdictional authority.

On Wednesday, five certified police officers with the New Mexico State Police were sworn in after completing two days of training provided by Navajo Police Sgt. Wallace Billie of the Window Rock District.

“These officers can enforce Navajo Nation criminal and traffic laws on the Navajo Nation, and to provide more resources and assistance for us,” Billie said on Wednesday.

Rules of behavior

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
New Mexico State Police Patrolman Mico Garcia, right, and other state police officers raise their right hand and take the oath of office after passing the Navajo Nation Police cross-commissioning training in Gallup on Wednesday.

The addition of the five officers now brings the total number of cross-commissioned police officers to 126, said Billie.

He said the officers, who are not Navajo, learned about the culture, customs, and tribal laws that Navajo Police enforce.

“We started off with the Diné,” Billie said on Monday. “Talking to the outside law enforcement agency about Navajo traditions, Navajo beliefs, taboos – not an overall knowledge but at least an understanding of Navajo.”

On Monday, New Mexico State Police Lt. Shawn Martin said the department also gives tips on the dos and don’ts of the Indigenous tribes for which they provide police service.

“They don’t just go straight right into arresting, booking procedures,” Martin said. “They actually start off with, like, learning about Navajo culture.

“Earlier, I was in there,” he said. “They’re talking about the hogan. And for non-Natives who are state police officers have no idea what a hogan is.

“They’re learning about the culture of the Navajo, the hogan, why it faces east, corn pollen,” he added. “They’re learning everything about us, our lifestyle, our culture.”

Force management

Martin said two of the training officers are from Virginia and California.

Billie said Navajo Police currently have less than 200 officers. With the cross-commissioning of the outside officers, they could aid, make arrests, or issue tribal traffic citations.

Navajo Police Chief Daryl Noon said he has 186 officers.

“What a lot of people don’t understand is 30 to 40 of those commissioned officers are supervisors,” Noon told the Navajo Times. “When you’re talking about actual officers on the road responding to calls, it’s probably more like 130 to 140.”

Martin said state police can now work alongside Navajo Police.

“As you hear nationwide, there’s a shortage of law enforcement officers,” Martin said. “And within District 6, it encompasses McKinley County and Cibola County. With McKinley County, about maybe 60% to 75% is the Navajo Reservation.

“Most of our calls are helping out Navajo Police,” he added. “It’s a good incentive for us to be cross-commissioned and to have our troops out there working with Navajo Police.”

A memo from the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department relating to cross-commissioning states that multiple governments in New Mexico “exercise jurisdiction over criminal conduct in Indian Country” that encompass tribal, state and federal governments.

“Allocation of jurisdiction among these sovereigns depends on the type of criminal conduct alleged and the Indian or non-Indian status of the alleged perpetrator and victim,” the memorandum said.

New Mexico retains exclusive jurisdiction over non-Natives committing crimes against another non-Native in Indian Country and criminal conduct committed by non-Natives in Indian Country, the memo read.

Civil jurisdiction

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
Crownpoint District Court Judge Leonard Livingston gives the oath of office to several New Mexico State Police officers in Gallup on Wednesday.

Tribal police, the memo read, can only exercise civil jurisdiction over non-Natives in Indian Country, such as issuing traffic citations for traffic violations.

With cross-commissioning given by the New Mexico State Police through formal written agreements, tribal police could arrest, charge, jail, or prosecute non-Native offenders for violation of state law.

Billie provided an example and highlighted a July 9, 2021, incident when two children were allegedly taken from the reservation.

Montezuma County Sheriff Steven Nowlin temporarily cross-deputized several Navajo Police officers so they could search the Delores, Colorado, area for missing children Bailey and Braidin Begay.

In New Mexico, for a tribal police department to get a state cross-commission, the department must submit proof of liability and property damage insurance for police vehicles and complete a 400-hour basic police training that the New Mexico law enforcement academy approves.

After taking the oath of office given by Navajo Nation Judge Leonard Livingston, Billie thanked the officers for their continued assistance.

“Stay safe out there,” he said.


About The Author

Donovan Quintero

"Dii, Diné bi Naaltsoos wolyéhíígíí, ninaaltsoos át'é. Nihi cheii dóó nihi másání ádaaní: Nihi Diné Bizaad bił ninhi't'eelyá áádóó t'áá háadida nihizaad nihił ch'aawóle'lágo. Nihi bee haz'áanii at'é, nihisin at'é, nihi hózhǫ́ǫ́jí at'é, nihi 'ach'ą́ą́h naagééh at'é. Dilkǫǫho saad bee yájíłti', k'ídahoneezláo saad bee yájíłti', ą́ą́ chánahgo saad bee yájíłti', diits'a'go saad bee yájíłti', nabik'íyájíłti' baa yájíłti', bich'į' yájíłti', hach'į' yándaałti', diné k'ehgo bik'izhdiitįįh. This is the belief I do my best to follow when I am writing Diné-related stories and photographing our events, games and news. Ahxéhee', shik'éí dóó shidine'é." - Donovan Quintero is assistant editor of the Navajo Times, and an award-winning Diné journalist, who is based in Window Rock, Arizona. He can be contacted at dq@navajotimes.com.

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