ALBUQUERQUE —The Nation’s Law and Order Committee (LOC) advocated for improved benefits for surviving spouses and children of fallen Navajo Nation police officers after receiving reports July 14 from involved parties.
The Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety, Navajo Nation Employee Benefit Program, Navajo Nation Worker’s Compensation Program, Navajo Nation Department of Justice (NNDOJ) and the Navajo Nation Office of Management and Budget all submitted reports regarding benefit plans for surviving members of police officer’s families.
LOC chair Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie (Churchrock, Iyanbito, Mariano Lake, Pinedale, Smith Lake, Thoreau) said the intent of the meeting was to direct all the involved parties to develop policy changes that benefit the families of fallen officers — a subject which is long overdue to be addressed.
“Our Nation’s officers work twice as hard to cover 27,000 square-miles of land and they should be given the best benefit plans,” Yazzie said. “It saddens me that the spouses and children of late officers who lost their lives in the line of duty have to endure emotional and financial troubles. We need to increase their benefits.”
NNDOJ principal tribal court advocate Arita Yazzie explained that Navajo Nation police officers are under the same employee benefit plan of all Navajo Nation employees.
LOC member Council Delegate Kee Allen Begay, Jr. (Low Mountain, Many Farms, Nazlini, Tachee/Blue Gap, Tselani/Cottonwood) recommended police officers and first responders have a separate benefit and pension plan that would include death benefits that can cover burial expenses, family support and education scholarships for dependents.
“Our police officers and first responders are mixed with all the regular Navajo employee,” Begay said. “I believe it is possible to create a unique and separate benefit plan for them. We need to take good care of our police officers. For example, the Nation only contributes $7,000 for funeral expenses and that is not enough.”
LOC vice chair Council Delegate Raymond Smith, Jr. (Houck, Klagetoh, Nahata Dziil, Tsé Si áni, Wide Ruins) also recommended Navajo officers be entitled to federal benefits.
“Our Navajo officers are unique officers because they carry duties within different jurisdictions,” Smith said. “We need to support our officers to get all the benefits they are entitled to.”
Navajo Nation Police Department chief of police Phillip B. Francisco said the department is currently working on the revision of the BIA 638 law enforcement contract, which will be considered by the committee.
At the conclusion of the meeting, LOC directed the departments to bring forth policy changes to address the concerns and issues within two months.