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FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) — A new television show that follows Navajo Nation police officers as they patrol the reservation’s 17 million-plus acres is set to hit the airwaves.
“Navajo Cops” premieres Monday evening on the National Geographic Channel and features some of the tribal department’s 330 men and women on patrol.
The show follows officers as they provide services and respond to calls across the sprawling reservation. About 180,000 residents live on the nation’s largest Indian reservation, which extends across parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. The officers have to balance modern law enforcement with ancient customs.
“I think one of the most eye-opening things for us was that, if you live in a big city, you’re used to police officers having partners, working in pairs,” show producer and director Sam Dolan told the Farmington Daily Times. “On Navajo, they’re out there by themselves. There could be 50 miles in between officers. They make huge sacrifices, and it’s a very dangerous job.”
The show is a joint effort between the Navajo Division of Public Safety and Flight 33 Productions.
The days are relentless, Dolan said. The Navajo police force, chronically understaffed and overworked, faces giant obstacles in terms of geography and manpower.
After a pilot episode aired in May, Flight 33 Productions got the green light to produce six more episodes. Crews filmed officers at work in some of the bigger communities on the reservation, including Shiprock and Crownpoint in New Mexico, and Window Rock, Kayenta, Chinle and Tuba City, Ariz., Dolan said. Filming took place during the summer and early autumn.
“We went pretty much everywhere on the Navajo Nation,” he said. “We did work in most of the police districts.”
The film crew rode with about 30 officers, Dolan said, but the show focuses on half a dozen men and women. Those officers allowed cameras into their personal lives, as well.
Although the episodes follow police action on the reservation, including murder, suicide, rape, domestic violence, drugs, gangs and prostitution, Dolan hopes the personal stories also touch viewers.
“These officers go to work every day to preserve their traditions, their cultures,” he said. “They know the people they are policing, they know who they are interacting with. Even though the reservation is very busy for a cop, it has a small-town feel.”
The Navajo Film Office wanted to educate the public about the tribal officers’ work, said Lorie Lee, former media production specialist for the film office. Lee worked with the filming crew during the two years it was scouting for locations and producing the show.
“The main emphasis was that they wanted to shadow and have the officers be documented and have their (stories) told,” Lee said of the production company. “The officers wanted to know that their stories would be handled from their point of view.”
The film office also wanted the production to show some of the law enforcement issues on the reservation, Lee said.
“This is an insight into Native American country, the terrain, the culture, the language,” she said of the show. “This is the positive and negative aspects and the social ills that everyone knows exist, but that they are not quite able to understand until they see it.”
Navajo officers deal with unique challenges, such as lack of street signs, inconsistent backup and areas where their radios don’t have signals, Lee said. Another interesting part of the Navajo force is that more women than men work as officers, she said.