Long Distances, No Backup are Realities for To’hajiilee/Alamo Police Officer

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
Navajo Nation Police Officer Pam Hurley-Vandever radios the Crownpoint Police District dispatch her location in Alamo Friday during her routine patrol.

Published August 12, 2017

TO’HAJIILEE/ALAMO, NEW MEXICO – The first thing Navajo Nation Police Officer Pam Hurley-Vandever, 38, does before she begins her patrol is fill up the gas tank in her 2012 Chevy Tahoe.

Even if it is not entirely empty, she fills it up.

“In case I end up driving to one-oh-three,” she explains.

“One-oh-three” is Navajo police code for a police station, which, from her patrol areas in Alamo and To’hajiilee, is anywhere from 119 to 153 miles away.

That does not include the longer route if the weather is bad, which can turn Laguna Road 54, a dirt road, into an impassable “muddy mess.”

When that happens, Hurley-Vandever, who is Naakai Diné’é’, born for Tábaahá, said she has no choice but to head south on I-40 to Socorro, then west to Magdalena before heading north on New Mexico State Road 169 to reach her destination.

The long distance is only one of the challenges she faces on a day-to-day basis when she patrols the Navajo Nation’s southeastern territory.

She is one of 20 officers assigned to patrol the Crownpoint Police District, which is arguably the biggest.

Often, Hurley-Vandever is on patrol – alone – with no backup, dealing with drug dealers, thieves, meth and heroin users and other lawbreakers.

Luckily the Alamo Reservation is not too big, about 10 miles long and 4 1/2 miles wide at its widest point. A 2010 U.S. Census listed a little over a thousand residents occupying the tiny reservation.

‘Just doing my job’

Things can quickly go from quiet to loud when dealing with irate family members badgering an officer about why their relative is being arrested, said the 2006 Navajo Law Enforcement Training Academy graduate.

“When I go to a scene, the whole family shows up,” she said. “They want to know why they’re arrested. They want to know what’s going on and they get upset and I become the bad person. In reality I’m not. I’m just doing my job.”

She pulls up to a silver car and recognizes the driver. The driver is the mother of a suspect wanted for a bench warrant.

“Hi, háaji, Leo?” she asks her. “Where is he? I just want to talk to him.”

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
Navajo Nation Police Officer Pam Hurley-Vandever shows part of a plastic straw that is used to snort drugs in Alamo, New Mexico.

“He’s around, but I don’t know where he is,” the mother answers.

“Oh, OK. So, you don’t know where he went?” Hurley-Vandever asks.

“I don’t know. He’s working in Grants. I brought him back two days ago,” she said. “Who said he was stealing?”

“Tell him, if you see him, to come see me,” Hurley-Vandever said.

She thanks the mother and leaves.

She continues her patrol on the “UFO” road, Alamo Springs Road, before getting back to “169,” the only major highway that connects the small town to Magdalena, which lies to the south.

Her demeanor changes when she spots Leo Apachito Jr., 27, along with his mother, the woman she had just spoken to minutes earlier, in the T’iis T?oh Mini Market parking lot. Apachito sees her as she turns on her lights and blocks their car. He seems to contemplate fleeing the area, but Hurley-Vandever is quicker and is on him.

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
A marijuana pipe, a syringe, and part of a plastic straw – all drug paraphernalia, according to Navajo Nation Police Officer Pam Hurley-Vandever – are placed on the trunk of a car Friday.

She grabs him and puts handcuffs on him. Her 11 years of police work is automatic as she begins to frisk him.

She explains to him she’s arresting him for an arrest warrant that was issued by the Alamo District Court.

During her search, she pulls out his wallet and a comb from his back pocket.

Drug paraphernalia

After she completes her search she places him into her vehicle.All routine – until she reaches into his front pockets and pulls out a marijuana pipe, a syringe, and a plastic straw that’s been cut one end and melted on the other. She says drug users commonly use straws to snort drugs.

“Hold on, OK? Let me finish what I have to right here and I’ll le

t you talk to her,” she tells him when Apachito asks if he could speak to his mother.

She puts the drug paraphernalia into a bag as she asks what he uses them for.

“What are you shooting up?” she asks.

He replies something called “black.”

“Black ice?” she asks.

“Think so, yeah,” Apachito says.

“When was the last time you shot up?” she asks. “Was it today?”

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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