Anyone who’s ever been to a kegger knows that teens and
cops are often at odds, but a new group seeks to bridge the gap:
the Sheriff’s Youth Advisory Council.
“It’s a program where kids are
challenged to have the voice they say they don’t have,”
said Susan Franzheim, who brought the idea to the Sheriff’s
Office. “It’s not just for the so-called good kids
– it’s the Eagle Scouts alongside youth on probation.”
Though the final group of teen delegates
to the council will be decided this October, three focus groups
of teens - aged 13 to 19 - met this summer to start the exchange
Weylin Ryan, an 18-year-old Durango High
School senior, said he participated in the focus groups because
it’s important to “get something started where kids
can voice their opinions because I know how this town can be with
the good-old-boy network.”
Ryan is in the Eagle Scout category; in fact,
he recently finished a project to apply to be an Eagle Scout that
involved painting 94 fire hydrants. He also is a member of the
Durango High School Aerospace Team that won first place at a national
competition, and is active in theater at DHS.
He hopes the council will help teens learn
their legal rights, “because they can get taken advantage
of,” and break down negative attitudes between youth and
Maurio Gomez, along with other community
members such as City Councilor Aaron Tucson and Bill Mashaw, a
founder of the Durango chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters, is
a member of the council’s “team” of mentors,
which will meet with the teens and Sheriff’s department
monthly, starting in October.
Gomez, a 26-year-old Durango native, said
he is involved because he wants to “help out” the
Hispanic community. He would like to urge law enforcement officials
to be more “culturally aware” because he said he has
encountered harassment by law enforcement and the school system
because of his heritage.
“Hispanic kids are stereotyped as being
gang members, so I got pulled over all the time,” Gomez
said of growing up in Durango. “It’s D.W.H. –
Driving while Hispanic.”
Gomez said that his high school teachers
also were condescending.
“Instead of helping me, they were just saying, ‘You’re
gonna get suspended,’” he said.
Gomez said he dropped out of Durango High
School partly because of this treatment – though he says
“50 percent” was his fault.
“We needed a program like this 10 years
ago when I was in high school,” Gomez said.
“If there had been, I would never have
Gomez did eventually graduate from Fort Lewis
College and is now an organizer for the Democratic Committee.
His hopes for increased diversity in the sheriff’s department
extend to his own dreams, which include attending law school at
“I want a law firm with every race
in it,” Gomez said.
Weylin Ryan’s mother, Cindy Ryan, also
is a member of the council’s team of mentors.
“It’s opened my eyes, listening
to complaints youth have,” she said. “It’s not
just law enforcement, it’s adults in general.”
She said her 14-year-old son, Ricky, is a
skateboarder who has been stopped by police and “talked
down to,” despite the fact that he boards responsibly.
But she said that in her 27 years of experience
with drug-abuse prevention and counseling, she has found Sheriff
Duke Schirard to be focused on “youth needs,” even
if he didn’t always know how to help.
For his part, Schirard has high hopes for
“This really has a chance of becoming
something very worthwhile,” he said. Hopefully with this
interaction we can both become more tolerant with each other and
help each other.”
The Sheriff’s Youth Advisory Council
meets monthly, starting in October, to discuss issues facing youth
and law enforcement in La Plata County. Applications to be on
the team will be accepted until Sept. 30. For more information,
call 946-4644. The council is sponsored by Pat Murphy Motors.