Consultant's report recommends Navajo Police Department double its staffing
Evaluators call current staffing levels 'dangerously low' considering the size of the department's coverage area
WINDOW ROCK, Arizona — A newly-released report that assesses the Navajo Police Department describes current staffing levels as "dangerously low" and recommends that the agency double in size — from 250 to 500 personnel — to improve public safety.
It is a situation the department's leaders have been aware of and have been addressing in recent years, Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco said during an event held on May 27, when the document was released to the public.
Francisco, who will mark five years as police chief in August, explained he wanted a comprehensive review of the department because it is unique due to the size of the area employees serve, the types of situations officers respond to and the composition of communities.
"This will give us the template to move forward and recommendations that we'll start looking at how to implement," Francisco said.
The report states that to reach the goal of 500 personnel, a budget to cover the demand is the first step. He said the department also must examine recruitment, hiring, training and retention. Francisco sees the assessment as a means of guiding the department to achieve those improvement goals.
Strengths and weaknesses outlined
The 174-page document examines the department's current conditions regarding staffing, equipment, infrastructure and training. It also describes conditions that affect law enforcement, including the status of community and police relations.
Among the department's identified weaknesses are:
• Radio and cellular coverage is not reliable in all areas of the tribal land;
• The sense of department unity is not consistently present;
• Buildings that are in poor condition or closed;
• Challenges in recruitment;
• Limitations in data collection and management systems.
However, the report states there is a commitment and dedication of officers at all ranks.
Other strengths include:
• Young department staff viewing the department as a unified entity;
• Department leadership approaching change with a long-term view as part of a strategy to rebuild and improve the department;
• Confidence in the department's leaders has improved and is growing among officers, civilians, partnering agencies and others.
The report was developed by Massachusetts-based consulting company Strategy Matters LLC, over an 18-month period and was complied through interviews, focus groups, surveys and a review of policies and procedures. It is the first part of the police department's long-range planning process.
"Today, gender violence, alcohol and drug abuse, inadequate housing, needs of the mentally ill, availability of firearms, drive demand for police services," the report states.
It also highlighted that the department's rules and regulations in its 1979 General Orders "are outdated and unhelpful."
Leaders look to the future
Jesse Delmar, executive director of the tribe's Division of Public Safety, said the vision to improve the quality of service means revising the general orders.
"Today is a new day and this is very exciting," Delmar said.
Despite the challenges, Navajo police services are valued in the communities, said Liz O'Conner, the report's lead consultant.
"In our experience, the support and trust the residents of this nation have for this police department is unparalleled. Despite staffing shortages and real challenges in responding to incredible demand for service, the NPD has managed to build a trusting and solid relationship with a majority of residents," O'Conner said.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez described the problems of addiction, substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide and missing persons as "modern day monsters."
"We know the problems and now with this assessment that's being completed by Navajo Police Department in partnership with Strategy Matters, we want to move forward with the next steps," Nez said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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