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'This is your police department': Daryl Noon sworn in as new Navajo Nation chief of police

Becoming the Navajo Nation chief of police was not on Daryl Noon's radar when he started at the Navajo Nation Police Department in 2019 as the deputy chief.

He already liked what he was doing and was recruited directly by former Navajo Chief of Police Phillip Francisco after Franciso took charge of the department in 2016.

"I can't thank him enough for giving me this opportunity and bringing me to Navajo," Noon said of Francisco. "This is truly one of the greatest experiences of my professional career."

Over the last three years, Noon said he's worked alongside Francisco and saw firsthand the challenges the department faces but also the great success they've been able to achieve.

During Francisco's time as chief, the department reestablished the police academy, hired more police officers and increased salaries.

Noon said he was often sitting at the table with Francisco when some of those big changes came to the department.

"A lot of things that have been happening, I've been right there with them," he said. So when Francisco mentioned he'd be leaving, and Noon was then asked to fill his position, he accepted it without hesitation.

"When I was asked, it was an easy answer," he said.

The fact that he was already in a leadership position in the department made for a smooth transition and a chance to see plans through.

"I wanted to make sure that there was no disruption in what we've been doing up to that point," Noon said. "It's important to me that I finish what we all started.

"All of us at the table may never see the end result of this vision that we have, but it's important that we keep pushing for that."

Noon was sworn in as the new Navajo Chief of Police on Jan. 3 during a virtual ceremony held in Window Rock.

"We strive every day to bring the best service to the Navajo people," said Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety Director Jesse Delmar during the swearing-in ceremony.

The job that Noon will be taking on as Chief of Police is not like any other in the law enforcement community, Delmar said, and Noon will be doing what is important for the Navajo people and the tribal government.

"Thank you for stepping forward," Delmar said to Noon.

Before taking the oath, Noon's 94-year-old grandmother Rosalie Yazzie pinned a four-star badge on his uniform, symbolizing his new position as chief.

Noon hugged his grandmother after she pinned the badge on his left breast and helped her to her seat, before Yazzie sat down and told everyone, "I'm so honored to pin this pin on my grandson, the Navajo chief of police."

Navajo Nation District Court Judge Malcolm P. Begay administered the oath of office to Noon at the Office of the Navajo Nation President and Vice President in Window Rock on Jan. 3.

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After being sworn in, Noon said having his grandmother pin on his badge was very meaningful because "she's been a rock in my life for many years."

Noon is in charge of the largest tribal law enforcement agency in the country. The Navajo Nation Police Department's jurisdiction covers the entire Navajo Nation, which is 27,000 square miles and spans across three states: Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The department serves a population of over 175,000 that live on tribal land.

"We will continue building on the success and legacy that he and former Chief Francisco began building together," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said during the swearing-in ceremony.

"We know that there are many challenges ahead but we are fully confident that Mr. Noon's experience and the background will help lead our frontline warriors to many more great accompaniments and increase the safety of our communities and our people," Nez added. "This is the next era of the Navajo Police Department..

Noon, 49, has more than 26 years of law enforcement experience, 23 of which were spent with the Farmington (N.M.) Police Department in various capacities, including deputy chief of police.

Noon is Honágháahnii and born for Bilagáana. His maternal grandfather is Táchii'nii and his paternal grandfather is Béésh Bich'ahii. He is a member of the Navajo Nation and was born in Fort Defiance, Ariz., and previously lived in Shiprock, N.M.

Navajo PD faces major challenges

Noon acknowledged there will be challenges to running the department, chief among them the relationship the department has with the Navajo Nation Council's Law and Order Committee, which has legislative oversight of the Navajo Navajo Police Department. But he said he's willing to put in the work.

"It's no secret that there's been tension with (council) delegates," Noon said, adding he is aware of the animosity between Francisco, his predecessor, and the Law and Order Committee, but he hopes to work more with delegates in the future.

"My style is not going to be the same as perhaps a delegate or a division director, or even the president," Noon said, but "it's my responsibility to make sure that they're educated on what exactly it means to be a police officer."

Noon said the door is always open to delegates who want to sit down and talk about the Navajo Nation Police Department. He hopes they'll take advantage of that invitation.

Another challenge the department faces is chronic staffing shortfalls.

"We're shorthanded. It's not an excuse — it's a reality," Noon said.

He aims to address the issue by continuing to recruit for the academy, as well as find ways to provide opportunities for professional and career development within the department — something he said has been missing in the agency for a long time.

When it comes to finding new recruits, Noon finding qualified candidates is challenging. For example, the current academy class saw 280 applicants, but only 32 were qualified and admitted to the academy. Only 19 of those recruits remain.

"That's really sad, because the problem is a lot of people are not really prepared with life skills, with life experience," Noon said. Often, applicants are interested because of what they see on TV or they like the salaries listed, but when it comes down to going through the academy, they don't cut it, he said.

Noon said they've had some recruits go home for the weekend, and text their commanders Sunday night telling them they're not coming back.

"It's tough," Noon said because, according to an assessment, the department has "dangerously low" staffing.

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A recent report found that the Navajo Nation Police Department needs a total of 775 personnel, this includes police officers, commanding staff, and support staff, to provide basic law enforcement services to the Navajo Nation.

"We're doing the best that we can," Noon said, because the department does feel the strain.

"I'm looking forward to the day when we start having adequate staffing," he said. "I want our employees to enjoy coming to work..

He said he hopes those on the Navajo Nation who believe they can do police work to apply for the academy and give it a shot.

'We just need to do better' on missing and murdered cases

Noon also said the police department has been working to help families of missing and murdered Navajo monitor cases.

The Navajo Nation has seven police districts, and Noon said within each district they have complied a list of active missing and murder Indigenous people cases. A sergeant within that district is responsible for reviewing all the open cases and doing follow-ups, Noon said, whether it's making phone calls or conducting interviews.

"They're responsible for, every quarter, calling the family and keeping in touch with them, because I know that is where we get criticized a lot," Noon said. "We're trying to manage the active cases better."

There have been challenges. He's heard of how families who try to report their loved ones missing only to be dismissed by the department or given misleading information.

"I will never make excuses for our officers doing a bad job," Noon said. "I do acknowledge that I have heard reports that, when somebody calls in to report a relative missing, they're told only the immediate family can report them missing."

Noon said that there needs to be better training and education among employees, because that is not how it works. All reports need to be taken seriously and immediately get entered into the database.

Noon said addressing those types of miscommunications within the department requires re-educating the staff and changing mindsets on how to handle these types of cases.

"We just need to do better," Noon said.

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Noon said the department has also been approached about how they release information when it comes to missing and murdered cases that occur on the Navajo Nation.

"I will release as much information as I can," Noon said, but in some cases, it's out of his hands when jurisdiction has been transferred to the federal government. "We try to be as transparent as we can."

In the end, Noon said he wants the Navajo people to understand that the Navajo Nation Police Department is there for them.

"This is your police department," Noon said. "We want you to be proud of your police department and that's what we're going to strive for.

"We want you to know that you can trust us to do our jobs," he added.

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Screenshot via the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President/Facebook

Navajo Nation Police Department Chief Daryl Noon has his new badge pinned to his uniform by his 94-year-old grandmother, Rosalie Yazzie, at a Jan. 3, 2022, swearing-in ceremony. Screenshot via the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President/Facebook