On Sunday, Navajo police officer Houston Largo faced gunfire alone on a dark New Mexico road en route to a domestic violence call on the eastern edge of the largest American Indian reservation. The 27-year-old was found critically wounded, on the ground bleeding about 50 yards from the vehicle he had stopped. He was flown to an Albuquerque hospital, where he died, the Associated Press reports. Amber Kanazbah Crotty of the Navajo Nation council said, “The violence we are seeing is showing our officers are not only stretched thin, but they also are facing challenges with the vastness of the area.” The Navajo Nation covers 27,000 square miles in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah where tribal officers patrol the rural roads alone. That can leave them without backup during a life-or-death situation, especially in circumstances where the nearest fellow officer is more than an hour away.
Tribal jurisdictions across the West often cover sweeping, remote areas that are larger than some U.S. states, but with far fewer police. Largo’s death has renewed focus on the dangers that Indian Country’s remote landscapes can pose for officers both within the Navajo Nation’s chronically understaffed police department and on remote reservations from the Dakotas to the Southwest. A high volume of domestic violence calls adds another layer of danger for officers on many reservations. Such calls are considered the most deadly for police. More than half of Native American women and nearly half of men surveyed by the National Institute of Justice said they had experienced physical violence by a partner. The Navajo Nation, home to more than 175,000 people, has fewer than 250 patrol officers and investigators. The officers responded to more than 4,600 domestic violence calls in 2015.