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FARMINGTON >> Nearly four years after it opened, a half-million-dollar police station about 30 miles south of Bloomfield remains unused most of the time and the San Juan County Sheriff says the project is a failure.

Edmund Yazzie, the chairman of the Navajo Nation Law and Order Committee, said Navajo Nation police are grossly understaffed throughout the Nation, which is the likely reason the building is not regularly staffed with Navajo police. He said Navajo lawmakers need to look at ways to address the understaffed police force.

San Juan County Commissioners approved in November 2009 an agreement between the county and the Navajo Nation. The agreement called for the county to build the police station and the Nation was to keep it staffed with officers.

The building, which cost the county $511,000, officially opened in July 2010.

The purpose of the project was to create a stronger law enforcement presence in the Huerfano, Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle and Nageezi communities along U.S. Highway 550 south of Bloomfield.

San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen said the agreement made between the Navajo Nation and the county never came to fruition. The building, which has signs on it that state it is open from 8 a.m. To 5 p.m. five days a week, is hardly used.

The Navajo Nation "has absolutely failed on their end of the agreement. To be honest, I think it was a waste of time, money and effort," Christesen said.

Christesen said for the building to be successful, there needs to at least be one person from the Navajo Nation there during normal business hours to answer calls and questions.

San Juan County Sheriff's Office Deputy Dan Ashburn is assigned to live in a county-owned building near the police station. He responds to serious calls for service on the highway and the housing areas in the nearby communities.

A vacant police station is pictured near the Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle Community Grant School earlier this month on U.S. Highway 550 in Huerfano.
A vacant police station is pictured near the Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle Community Grant School earlier this month on U.S. Highway 550 in Huerfano. (Megan Farmer — The Daily Times)

Ashburn said in 2013, Navajo Nation police officers operated there on a somewhat consistent basis at the start of the year. He said their presence has dwindled and now he occasionally sees officers use the facility for hour or two-hour long stretches during the week.

Yazzie said the police station is in the Eastern Agency, which puts it under the authority of Crownpoint police.

He said Crownpoint police should have between 50 to 60 police officers, but there are only about 20 currently employed.

Those officers patrol an area that stretches from the Huerfano chapter just south of Bloomfield to the Chichiltah chapter southwest of Gallup, he said.

Yazzie said entrance exam requirements and the money and time needed to send Navajo police officers to training and certification programs for the all the jurisdictions -- Navajo Nation, New Mexico and Arizona -- are some of the main reasons for understaffing across the reservation.

"The building was a good deal and it was a good cause ... But I know (Navajo police) are shorthanded," he said. "We have issues with recruiting that we as policy makers are trying to address."

Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and rboetel@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.