FARMINGTON — The Farmington Police Department announced last week it was working to create a memorandum of understanding with the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety that would allow Farmington police officers to make arrests in sovereign territory.
Farmington police Chief Steve Hebbe said discussions are in the preliminary stages, but his department is "driving toward signing it."
"Folks that cause crimes in our jurisdiction often go out there. Crimes that are committed out there, the folks often come back here," Hebbe said.
The memorandum would not only lead to better law enforcement, Hebbe said, but it would also serve to strengthen ties between the Navajo Nation and the Farmington Police Department.
"A lot of the people from the Nation come to Farmington," he said. "I want them to know us. I want them to have a relationship with us. We view it as a chance to show ourselves out there, and for them to become more familiar with us."
John Billison, the executive director of the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety, could not be reached for comment last week.
Farmington City Manager Rob Mayes said he supports the initiative.
"The chief has picked up the work, where our previous chiefs, mayors, administrators have always been working to maintain the best possible relationship with the Navajo Nation," he said.
This week, Hebbe said he will join Shiprock police Lt. Philip Joe in a ride-along to get a better sense of the reservation and the crimes committed there.
"I don't know if a Farmington chief has ever gone out on the rez, but I like the image that it sets — that I am serious about it and we recognize that they are an important part of our community and our economy here, and we want them to come in and we want them to know who we are," Hebbe said.
Hebbe was hired as Farmington's police chief in March, partly because of his experience working with Alaskan natives as deputy chief for the Anchorage Police Department.
Hebbe said his department's memorandum would likely be modeled after a similar one the Nation signed with New Mexico State Police almost two years ago.
State police Sgt. Micah Doering said an important aspect of the memorandum is the "fresh pursuit" clause, which allows officers to not only pursue suspects into sovereign territory but also to bring them back to non-Navajo territory without filing for extradition.
"It is basically a pre-signed extradition," he said.
Doering said the memorandum "totally streamlined" his department's arrest process.
"It has worked very well, very smoothly, and it really streamlines the job and the legal process and reduces paperwork by a ton," he said.
Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.