Navajo Nation examining new police academy

Noel Lyn Smith
The Navajo Nation is working with Dine College to establish a police academy for tribal law enforcement.

FARMINGTON — Diné College is pursuing the development and implementation of a memorandum of understanding with the Navajo Nation to establish a police academy for tribal law enforcement.

The tribe has been without a training school since the Navajo Law Enforcement Academy in Toyei, Ariz., closed three years ago.

Greg Bigman, president of the Diné College Board of Regents, said on Friday the college will draft a memorandum of understanding about developing a facility and providing educational services for police officer training.

Because the effort would be extensive, the college will also evaluate the possibility of forming partnerships to provide the service, Bigman said.

This action is based on the discussion at a June 28 meeting between college officials, tribal law enforcement personnel, and members of the Navajo Nation Council's Law and Order Committee.

During the meeting, committee members issued directives to the college prior to accepting the report, according to a press release from the speaker's office. Those directives include completing a review of the memorandum of understanding; presenting a proposal for operation and maintenance, dormitory and personnel costs; extending an invitation to residents of Tsaile, Ariz., where the college's main campus is located, to talk about the proposed training facility, and provide an update to the committee this month.

Delegate Edmund Yazzie, who is the committee chairman, said in the release the tribe is in “critical need” of police officers and a facility closer to tribal lands could boost interest.

Capt. Bobby Etsitty, delegated chief of police, said on Friday the tribe's academy closed on May 24, 2013, due to deteriorating conditions, leaving it unable to be used as a training environment.

Since its closure, recruits have been sent to the Arizona Law Enforcement Training Academy in Phoenix, the Northern Arizona Regional Law Enforcement Academy in Prescott and the South Law Enforcement Training Center in Tucson, Etsitty said.

When recruits return to the Navajo Nation, they undergo 12 weeks of additional training with senior police officers to learn about the tribal traffic code, laws and courts, he added.

Etsitty said Diné College and Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint were approached last July about providing space for a training facility.

Because the tribe receives certification under the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, officials there said the training center had to be located in Arizona, which made Diné College a reasonable choice, Etsitty said.

At the time, the vacancy number for police officers was approximately 30, but having an academy nearby would reduce the number, he said.

Board President Bigman said a previous memorandum of understanding from the college was submitted to the tribe’s Department of Justice, but there has not been an update about that document.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.