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Page threatens to stop responding to police calls from nearby rez

TSÉBIGHÁHOODZÁNÍ

Threatening to stop responding to public safety calls in Western Navajo, the Page city manager wrote in a letter to the Navajo Police chief that the city will terminate an agreement made between the two agencies.

Page City Manager Darren Coldwell last month sent the letter to Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco saying the city is terminating the 2016 Mutual Aid Agreement between the Navajo Nation Police, the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety, and the Page Police Department.

The purpose of the agreement is to provide mutual law enforcement personnel and resources in the event of a disaster, disorder, emergencies, or special requests for events in the respective jurisdiction.

The agreement went into effect under then Page Police Chief Frank Balkcom Sr.

But Coldwell said, “The practical application of that agreement has proven to be unworkable for Page and does not provide adequate protections to the city or its law enforcement officers.”

Coldwell said the city intends to terminate the mutual aid agreement on Oct. 31 when Page police officers would no longer respond to calls in Western Navajo.

“Despite our concerns over the years, the city has responded to life threatening situations in an effort to assist people in need,” Coldwell wrote, “but without mutually beneficial modifications to the current circumstances.”

Coldwell said this has been an ongoing issue for years. While there has been some progress with law enforcement, Coldwell said the current practices and state of operations are not working for the city.

“Currently, both police and emergency medical services personnel from the city are regularly dispatched to respond onto the Navajo Nation,” Coldwell wrote. “Historically, in an effort to be a good neighbor, the city has done its best to assist and respond.”

Coldwell said Page police and EMS personnel have responded because if they don’t do it, no one will, placing the city in a precarious moral position, which leaves the city without adequate resources for response.

“Although we sincerely desire to be good partners and neighbors, the burden that the historic practice has placed upon the city’s resources is significant and unsustainable,” Coldwell said, adding that finite resources are not the only concern with the current practices.

Coldwell said city medical personnel often encounter dangerous circumstances, such as violent crimes, while responding to calls in the Nation.

“In these circumstances, the patient either goes untreated or city law enforcement must assist because typically, the Navajo Nation law enforcement is unavailable to respond,” Coldwell said.

Navajo Nation Police Chief Phillip Francisco said the Page police officers though don’t quite respond to the calls in the Nation.

“Page resources, which are fire and EMS, come out to help,” Francisco explained in an interview with the Navajo Times. “They have rarely, if at all, in the last year or two, come onto Navajo to take calls or assist us.

“A lot of those were taken by our (Navajo police) officers,” he said.

Francisco said the letter was written without research, and if the city of Page and the Page Police withdraw from the agreement, it will hinder the ability to help them.

“And that’s what these agreements are really for,” Francisco said. “It’s not for them to come do our job or come out and take calls, or we take calls for them. It’s mutual aid.

“If anything major happens … we want to be able to go out there and provide assistance and more officers to help out, and vice versa,” he said. “That’s what those agreements are for, so we have the coverage and authority to help each other but not do each other’s job.”

Coldwell’s letter says that Page police are regularly dispatched to respond to calls on the Nation. Francisco said that’s untrue, according to Navajo Police’s statistics.

“Some of our police calls do get routed through (Page’s) 911 center but they’ll refer to our dispatch and our officers respond,” Francisco explained.

Francisco said while Coldwell’s letter is a little hostile, it shows cooperation from Coldwell.

“From my staff – the police department is cooperative,” he said. “The (Page) Police Chief (Tim Lange) has a good relationship with my commanders. But I think this really came from the city manager without really helping anybody else.”

Francisco’s police commanders want to maintain a working relationship with Lange and the Page Police Department.

The letter was copied to Page Police Chief Tim Lange, Page Fire Chief Jeff Reed, Tuba City Police District Capt. Leonard Williams, and to Jesse Delmar, the executive director of Division of Public Safety.

Lange and Delmar did not respond to an interview request. Coldwell agreed to a follow-up interview but pulled back because of health reasons, said Robin Crowther, Coldwell’s executive administrative assistant.

LeChee Chapter has a police substation but it was temporarily closed because some officers had to be reallocated in Dilkon, Arizona. Francisco said the reopening of the substation is underway.

There are 21 patrol officers in the Tuba City Police District. Francisco said TCPD rarely gets help from Page Police.

“Although the city is terminating the 2016 Mutual Aid Agreement, I’m requesting a meeting between our organizations to craft solutions for all interested parties,” Coldwell said.

“I am optimistic that we can work together and find ways to provide needed services to the residents of both the city and the Navajo Nation,” he said.


About The Author

Krista Allen

Krista Allen, based in Kaibeto, is the assistant editor of the Navajo Times.

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