The Associated Press
CHINLE, Ariz. (AP) — More than two dozen recruits are expected to begin training Monday at the Navajo Nation's police academy, a program that was postponed for months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The program will last 15 weeks instead of 22, with recruits training six days a week instead of four, the tribal police department said. The 25 recruits will be required to stay at the academy in Chinle the majority of the time, and the area will be closed to the public.
"This pandemic may have slowed our plans in the beginning, but it is not going to stop us from moving forward," said tribal police Chief Phillip Francisco. "We need to resume our academy to plan for the future and to get more officers in our communities."
Francisco said the coronavirus amplified the need. Officers have been answering service calls while overseeing the enforcement of nighttime curfews on the Navajo Nation.
The police department also had 13 officers who tested positive for COVID-19. Four remain in isolation, and the others have returned to duty after recovering, said tribal police spokeswoman Christina Tsosie.
Across the reservation, 6,611 people have tested positive and nearly half have recovered. Tribal health officials said late Sunday that 311 people have died.
Chinle reported the most COVID-19 cases out of 11 health care facilities with 1,725.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
The police recruits were expected to be tested for the coronavirus when they arrived for training. They also will have to wear masks, get their temperature checked daily and practice social distancing in the classroom.
If anyone at the academy tests positive during the program, that person will be quarantined and everyone will be retested, police officials said.
"Many departments have continued their academy training during this pandemic, and coming to the decision to resume the Navajo Nation's police academy was not made lightly," Francisco said.
The recruits were supposed to report in April as part of the fourth class trained at the tribe's academy, which reopened in 2018. They are set to graduate in October.