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FARMINGTON — The Navajo Police Department will start issuing citations for violating the nightly curfew on the Navajo Nation.

The Navajo Department of Health implemented the curfew – from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily – in a public health emergency order on March 29, as part of efforts to reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

The emergency order also extended a stay-at-home order for residents on the reservation and restricts non-essential travel during curfew hours.

Others are reading: Doors remain closed for Navajo Nation casinos over coronavirus concerns

Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco said officers will start issuing citations on April 4.

The citations are part of the department's enforcement of the curfew and stay-at-home orders, he said adding officers have been educating the public about both since the order was signed last month.

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"We've given a week of education and warnings in hope that people would voluntarily comply with the order," Francisco said in remarks at town hall meeting organized by the tribal president's office on Facebook Live.

He said that he understands penalties, which could be fines or jail time, can cause further hardship on families but he hopes people avoid such outcome by obeying the emergency orders.

Keep reading: Navajo Nation reports 20 new coronavirus cases; San Juan County has 4 new cases

"Our police officers and our emergency responders and health professionals on the Navajo Nation risk their lives and health every day for your well-being, please help us by complying with these orders," Francisco said.

While department personnel continue to respond to calls for emergency services, Francisco asked that if callers suspect they have symptoms for COVID-19 or have been diagnosed, they report that information to dispatchers, so personnel can respond accordingly.

Keeping personnel safe is important at this time, he said.

Navajo police spokeswoman Christina Tsosie said enforcement of the curfew will be done by traffic stops and checkpoints.

Tribal members and non-tribal members can be issued citations for curfew violations, Tsosie said.

When asked about the penalty for violating curfew, she said officers issue the citations, but the penalties are under the authority of the tribe's courts.

"These road blocks are for our protection," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said at the town hall meeting.

Since last month, tribal officials have taken steps to protect communities, including closing its parks and recreation areas and deterring travel by tourists

"Tourists, there's nothing to see here on Navajo because all our tourist destinations are closed. Our points of interest are closed. Please abide by the laws of the Navajo Nation," Nez said.

He added that vehicles displaying license plates from states outside the Four Corners can be stopped by police and cited if in violation of either the curfew or the stay-at-home order.

The police department has been sharing information about the curfew at checkpoints they have been setting up on the reservation.

Officers from the district in Shiprock conducted a second checkpoint on April 1 on the westbound lane of U.S. Highway 64 in Hogback.

Police Officer Derek Drake stood several feet away from a vehicle then talked to the driver about the curfew.

"Are you aware of the curfew taking place?" Drake said.

"Yeah," the driver replied.

"OK, we're just reminding the public about the curfew," Drake said before dismissing the vehicle.

Throughout the checkpoint, which was from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., officers stood several feet away from vehicles and fielded questions from motorists.

Read more: National Park Service locations close services on Navajo Nation due to COVID-19

Several provided reasons for being out past 8 p.m., while others stated they were essential workers, then showed identification and letters from their employers.

A total of 284 vehicles traveled through the two-hour checkpoint. The number was a decrease from the first checkpoint on March 30, which had 331 vehicles, according to data from the Shiprock district.

Nine checkpoints have been conducted by officers in the Shiprock and Crownpoint districts and in the districts of Dilkon, Kayenta, Tuba City and Window Rock in Arizona, department spokeswoman Tsosie said.

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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