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Cadets underwent 25 weeks of training at academy

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CHINLE, Arizona — The Navajo Nation welcomed 12 new police officers Friday in a graduation ceremony for the Navajo Police Training Academy Class 52.

It has been more than a decade since the tribe has graduated cadets from its own training academy. In the interim, academy recruits were sent to law enforcement training academies in Arizona.

Each cadet, dressed in the brown Navajo police uniform, walked onto the floor of Wildcat Den, the Chinle High School gym, at the start of the ceremony. After walking on stage, they stood by their chairs and waited for the order to sit. As they stood, family members captured the moment using cameras.

Efforts to re-establish an academy started in recent years and became a reality in part through collaboration with entities such as Navajo Technical University.

The class of six men and six women is the first to receive federal peace officer commissions by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia and the United States Indian Police Academy in Roswell.

The cadets learned about tribal and Arizona laws and received instruction in police procedure, firearms usage, de-escalation techniques, communication skills and first-aid.

Emmett Yazzie, the training commander for the Navajo Police Training Academy, shared insight into the challenges and work the cadets completed in 25 weeks.

"They have worked hard through personal and family hardships, and now are launching a new career," Yazzie said.

During his speech, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye named each graduate, then commended his or her commitment to serving and protecting the community. He reminded the audience that police officers place their lives on the line each time they provide service or respond to a call.

"Our prayers should always be for our officers. ...A police office is serving at the highest level," Begaye said.

Class 52 will be the first group of officers to use body cameras, and they elected to receive 24 credit hours from NTU, which operates a branch in Chinle.

NTU President Elmer Guy said the Division of Public Safety approached the university to form a partnership, which led to cadets enrolling in the college courses.

The curriculum used for the academy was reviewed by the Higher Learning Commission.

Guy told the officers that their first year on the job will have a sharp learning curve, but relying on the lessons they learned from the academy will guide them.

Steve Juneau, academy director for the United States Indian Police Academy, said the service tribal police officers provide Indian Country is unique.

As of June 19, there were 191 police officers serving the Navajo Nation, according to the department.

A video presentation showed cadets completing training courses and workouts, including running in Canyon de Chelly while wearing gray academy workout clothing. As the video was played, the cadets watched from the stage with some reacting with smiles and chuckles.

Cadet Dion Vandever reflected on the class in a speech.

Although they faced obstacles and challenges, both physically and mentally, from instructors, it was done to get them ready for service, he said.

"I figured the more they yelled at me, the more they loved me," Vandever said.

The police department anticipates a new cadet class will start training in August.

Navajo Nation Police Chief Phillip Francisco said background checks are being finalized for 18 recruits, which will determine whether they proceed to the academy.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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