Teens and police look for middle ground


Weylin Ryan, 18, discusses some topics facing teens in La Plata County, while Maurio Gomez, 26, looks on. 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 of ideas.

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 law enforcement.

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 dropped out.”

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 Columbia University.

“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 the program.

“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.




News Index Second Index Opinion Index Classifieds Index Contact Index