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AZTEC — The San Juan County Commission approved leasing a police substation in Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle to the Navajo Nation.

San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferrari explained to the commission during a Dec. 3 regular meeting that the Navajo Police Department approached the agency last month about using the substation for a 911 dispatch center for its Shiprock District.

The police department will use a $1.8 million federal grant to furnish and equip the building, located beside the volunteer fire station off U.S. Highway 550 approximately 30 miles south of Bloomfield.

The new center would provide better service to residents by reducing response time and improve communication between the county and the tribe.

This is the second time the county commission has agreed to lease the building to the tribe. In March 2009, the two governments entered into a 10-year lease for the Navajo Division of Public Safety to use the structure for law enforcement.

That lease expired in March and, although the intention was to provide daily police operations, it did not occur.

"I'm a strong proponent of making this happen. It's very rare when the Sheriff's Office can do something that impacts the lives of those living on the reservation due to jurisdiction issues," Ferrari said.

Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco said the dispatch center in Shiprock lacks current technology and dispatchers use landline telephones to answer calls.

With two dispatchers assigned to each shift, the amount of calls can be overwhelming, especially when dispatchers have to ask a series of questions in order to get incident details, addresses, directions and contact information – which adds time to police response, Francisco said.

Both Ferrari and Francisco lauded the substation's location near a radio tower and its connectivity.

In an interview after the meeting, Francisco said the department has hired a consultant to develop operating procedures, train dispatchers and advise on equipment purchases.

He said that he anticipates the dispatch center will be in operation in March.

Another aspect is to have the center eventually accept emergency calls from the Crownpoint District, he added.

The overall goal is to establish a service where 911 calls placed on tribal land go directly to the tribe's dispatch center rather than to the county dispatch, he said.

"There won't be this going back and forth between the county, it'll be more direct," Francisco said.

The lease agreement will be submitted to the Navajo Nation government, where it needs approval by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and the Department of Justice.

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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