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Hopi Tribe takes over law enforcement from federal agency

August 2, 2019

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A small northeastern Arizona tribe has taken over some law enforcement duties from a federal agency in a move to promote self-governance.

The Hopi rangers were created in 1989 to enforce natural resource laws, similar to state wildlife departments. But they’ve expanded their role over the years to oversee the tribe’s sex offender registry and respond to traffic violations, and crimes under other tribal and state laws.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs was the primary policing agency until a divided Hopi Tribal Council voted last month to take over the patrol and administrative services. The change allows the tribe to get federal funding for its police force.

Tribal officials say it also allows Hopi to decide how to best serve its people, keeping culture in mind.

“I’m very excited for this new challenge, for this opportunity to prove we can provide services for our own people on this reservation, the services they deserve,” said Hopi police Sgt. Glenn Singer.

All emergency calls now go to the Hopi Law Enforcement Services, instead of Bureau of Indian Affairs dispatchers, Singer said.

The BIA largely is responsible for overseeing law enforcement for recognized tribes throughout much of the United States, either by providing their own officers or funding tribal police departments. The FBI investigates major federal crimes like homicide and sexual assault on reservations.

Dale Sinquah was among the council members who voted against the change at Hopi, saying it was done haphazardly and the timing wasn’t right. The tribe is going to suffer a huge financial blow when a coal mine closes later this year, and Sinquah said the tribe won’t have money to bolster its police force if needed.

He said his questions about recruitment, funding, transportation of suspects and officer certifications went unanswered.

“Now that it’s done, I have to throw in full support,” he said. “I know that we’re hurting on money but this is one of the basic human needs of feeling that you’re protected ... so I’m willing to do everything I can to ensure that the public’s safety is top of the list.”

The Bureau of Indian Affairs had a staff of nearly two dozen people, including a police chief, officers, dispatchers and a secretary. BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling said the agency will continue doing criminal investigations and oversee a temporary holding facility on the 2,500-square-mile (6,475-square-kilometer) reservation that is surrounded by the much larger Navajo Nation.

An old, 68-bed adult detention center closed in 2016 and a new one is in the works. Darling said construction should be completed in the next 12-18 months. Adults now are taken to the Navajo County jail in Holbrook, more than an hour away, and juveniles are transported to Peach Springs on the Hualapai reservation more than three hours away.

Singer said much of the crime on the Hopi reservation is tied to substance abuse, including methamphetamine and alcohol, and family violence.

The staff of 14 police officers, including a chief and four sergeants, is certified to enforce state laws, Singer said. But it’s not certified to enforce federal laws, and the tribe cannot prosecute non-Natives.

Villages Against Meth, an offshoot of Hopi-Tewa Community Movement, had been pushing for the change. The group said it believes a tribal police force would be more familiar with Hopi practices and the people, and more responsive.

The group released a report this year after holding community meetings that said methamphetamine has “harmed Hopi families, eroded our culture and strained already limited resources.” It recommended stronger laws to target dealers and potentially banning them from the reservation.

“We realize the law enforcement isn’t there to be the solution, to end all, but we feel that it’s the families and at-home and personal choices we make that will impact those needed changes,” said group member Samantha Honani. “And we realize the law enforcement is there to help when needed.”

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