Navajo County, Nation ink law enforcement pact

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, February 21, 2013

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A fter four years of negotiation, the Navajo Nation has entered into a law enforcement agreement with the Navajo County Sheriff's Office to assist tribal police officers in patrolling the southwest portion of the reservation.

The agreement is between the tribe's Division of Public Safety, the Navajo Police Department and the sheriff's office.

It allows deputies to respond to emergency calls on tribal lands and authorizes deputies to enforce the tribe's criminal and traffic laws, including conducting searches and making arrests, within Navajo County.

It also allows Navajo police officers to respond to emergencies located within the county and off the reservation.

As part of the compact, deputies are required to complete a 16-hour training course at the tribe's police academy before they are issued a mutual aid law enforcement certification.

Under the arrest and custody procedures, when a deputy arrests a Native American within the reservation boundaries, that individual would be transported to the nearest tribal detention facility for booking and informed of his or her rights under the Navajo Bill of Rights.

If a non-Native suspect were arrested by a tribal police officer, that individual would be taken to a county detention facility for booking and informed of his or her rights under federal law.

The agreement, which was signed Tuesday by Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, expires in two years and can be renewed at that time.

Delegate Elmer P. Begay (Dilkon/Greasewood Springs/Indian Wells/Teesto/White Cone) sponsored the bill and presented it Tuesday to the Navajo Nation Council's Budget and Finance Committee for final consideration.

Earlier in the day, the bill received a "do pass" recommendation from the Council's Law and Order Committee.

Begay said the agreement would be one way to curb the high rate of crime that occurs in the portion of the reservation located in Navajo County.

"The crime rates are really high. We're just building coordination, cooperation to help face these issues," he said.

Delegate Dwight Witherspoon (Forest Lake/Hardrock/Kíts'íílí/Piñon/Whippoorwill) co-sponsored the bill and said this would provide additional police services for the seven communities in the county.

"Often officers have to routinely prioritize which calls they will actually go to and which ones they will not be able to get to," Witherspoon said.

In May 2012, the Law and Order Committee approved legislation to establish the Dzil Yijiin Judicial District to serve Black Mesa, Blue Gap-Tachee, Forest Lake, Hardrock, Low Mountain, Piñon and Whippoorwill chapters.

With the agreement in place, these communities would receive improved police protection, Witherspoon said.

Navajo County Sheriff K.C. Clark said the county wants to continue being a good partner for the tribe then added that a deputy has been helping on the reservation for four years so this would continue that service.

Both law enforcement agencies would benefit from the partnership and it is another way deputies are helping local police departments.

They also help law enforcement officials in Winslow, Show Low and Pine Top while the Arizona Department of Public Safety helps deputies because the department is short-staffed.

"So we're all helping each other and our county manager says this is the new normal," Clark said.

Committee member Mel Begay (Bahastl'ah/Coyote Canyon/Mexican Springs/Naschitti/Tohatchi) issued the sole opposition and questioned why the tribe is relying on an outside entity for service.

"We rely on somebody else so I think that's something we need to keep in mind," Begay said.

Nez, Witherspoon, and Elmer P. Begay along with Clark and Navajo County Attorney Brad Carlyon were among the officials who attended the signing ceremony.

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