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Officials tell Luján money needed to replace aging police, court buildings

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
An isolation cell was shown during a tour of the Shiprock Police Department by U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., on Friday.

SHIPROCK — From ceiling leaks to inadequate air ventilation, the status of the buildings that house the Shiprock Police epartment and district court are deteriorating.

The severity of the situation has resulted in multiple closure notices – the most recent calls for shutdown on April 30 – have been initiated by the Office of Environmental Health under Indian Health Service and enforced by the tribe's Department of Justice, said Navajo police Sgt. Ed Cohoe, who is the delegated lieutenant for the department in Shiprock.

Efforts have been ongoing for years to replace the aging structures that shelter the department and court near the junction of U.S. highways 64 and 491. The police department is situated in a building from the 1950s while the court building opened in 1972.

While land has been secured for the new judicial and public safety complex and processes such as architectural design and biological survey are complete, tribal officials say what is gravely needed is $77 million for construction.

They conveyed that need to U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján when he toured the buildings on Friday.

"The big issue that we're running into at this point is the cost of the facility. To build a new facility is $77 million," Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton said to Luján.

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., left, speaks to Sgt. Ed Cohoe, right, about using equipment to measure an inmate's Blood Alcohol Content in a room at the Shiprock Police Department Friday.

During the walk-through, Luján saw cracks in walls, unusable windows, plumbing issues, telephone wires running along ceilings, narrow hallways and cramped conditions because any available space is used for equipment, supplies and storage bins.

Officials also told him that the building has asbestos, lead and mold.

The situation has caused the department to transport inmates to Kayenta, Arizona confinement.

Detainees can be held up to 12 hours in the Shiprock jail. Any time longer than that, detainees are moved to Kayenta then transported back for court appearances – an added cost that is taking a toll on the department, Cohoe said.

Luján described the tour as a "very eye-opening experience."

A hallway in the Shiprock Police Department building was shown during a tour by U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., on Friday.

Officials said they worry about risks the structures pose to law enforcement and court staff, detainees and the public.

Police Chief Phillip Francisco said 43 employees, including 32 police officers, work in the department's building.

The condition of the premises and substandard appearance influences public perception of the agency, Francisco said.

"We need something more modern," he said.

Officer Darlene Foster works in the building. She described its heating and air conditioning as "not that great" then explained the cooling system is occasionally shut off in the summer because ice develops.

An empty holding area was shown during a tour Friday of the Shiprock Police Department conducted by U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M.

"We get sick. Sometimes we'll deal with migraines, headaches and officers get sick often. It's a concern," Foster said.

Officials have spent years advocating for funding, including securing $3.1 million from the tribe's Judicial/Public Safety Facilities Fund.

They also successfully lobbied state lawmakers to provide $3.15 million for the project in the capital outlay bill that waits Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's review and signature.

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.