WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - Key Navajo Nation officials have supported an agreement allowing Navajo County Sheriff deputies to assist with law enforcement inside the Nation's boundaries. The agreement will go to the Navajo Nation Council with the support of Director of Public Safety Samson Cowboy and Acting Chief of Police Bobby Etsitty, both of whom signed approval recently after a meeting with Navajo County District 1 Supervisor Jonathan Nez, Sheriff K. C. Clark and County Attorney Brad Carlyon.
The agreement will allow county deputies to be "cross-deputized" by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) so they can assist BIA officers and the Navajo Nation police in enforcing federal and tribal laws on the Navajo Nation. Without cross-deputization, county deputies have little authority on tribal lands.
The agreement is the brainchild of Sheriff Clark and County Attorney Carlyon, who promised during their 2008 election campaigns to build closer relationships between their offices and the federal and tribal agencies with primary responsibility for law enforcement on the Nation.
Together with Supervisor Nez, Clark and Carlyon traveled to Washington, D.C. earlier this year to brief BIA officials about the need for a cross-deputization agreement. Carlyon said the trip was "very productive" and included meetings with Arizona Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick and Senator John Kyl. "But we always knew the support of Navajo Nation law enforcement and the Navajo Nation Council would be critical to making the agreement a reality," Carlyon said.
The latest step forward came last week, when Nez, Clark and Carlyon attended the meeting in Window Rock with Director Cowboy and Acting Chief Etsitty. Also in attendance was Kee Yazzie Mann, a member of the Public Safety Committee of the Navajo Nation Council.
Nez, who is a Navajo Nation Council delegate representing the Shonto Chapter as well as a member of the county Board of Supervisors, said the support of Director Cowboy and Acting Chief Etistty is essential.
"They are the voices of Navajo Nation law enforcement," Nez said. "The Council looks to them and the Public Safety Committee for guidance in a matter such as this."
Nez said he had previously received a memo of support from Public Safety Committee Chairman Rex Lee Jim. "The memo said the committee fully supports our efforts to bring this agreement to fruition," Nez said. "Since the committee has oversight authority over the Nation's Division of Public Safety, this is also a critical endorsement."
Clark said numerous Navajo Nation Chapters throughout Navajo and Apache counties have also endorsed the cross-deputization agreement.
"The support has been widespread and enthusiastic," Clark said. "I'm confident we'll have an agreement in place in the near future."
Clark said a resolution recently adopted by the BIA Chinle Agency at the urging of Hardrock Chapter President Percy Deal explains the need for such an agreement. The resolution states that "the Navajo Nation police are over-worked and over-extended, drugs and alcohol are having a devastating impact on our communities and families, drug dealers are beginning to transport their drugs though the Nation in order to by-pass the interstates, and additional law enforcement services are desperately needed to combat the growing problems of drug and alcohol abuse."
The cross-deputization agreement was proposed by Carlyon as a way to overcome technical legal obstacles that have hindered past attempts at a law enforcement partnership. Carlyon said the Navajo Nation's status as a sovereign government with its own unique laws has made an agreement difficult to achieve in the past. He said cross-deputization by the BIA will avoid these obstacles and allow county deputies to provide an effective level of assistance.
"Crime knows no boundaries," Carlyon told the group. "We can't let jurisdictional boundaries be an obstacle to our crime-fighting partnership."
Navajo County's efforts are being coordinated with those of Apache and Coconino counties, whose sheriffs and county attorneys are negotiating similar agreements with the BIA.