BAYFIELD – Eight Bayfield High School students paired up, squared their feet in a fighting stance and clenched their fists into a proper punch.
These students weren’t preparing for a fight; rather, they were part of a unique law-enforcement curriculum created by the Bayfield Marshal’s Office to improve community relationships and keep schools safe.
In 2013, the Marshal’s Office worked with the Bayfield School District to start the interactive, prevention-focused classes. Law enforcement practices have been the center of national debates about officer-involved shootings, use of force, armed school employees and school resource officers. In Bayfield, the deputies said their classes have helped to improve community-officer relationships.
“Our whole goal is to create a safe and positive atmosphere for teachers to teach and kids to learn,” said Joe McIntyre, Bayfield town marshal. “We just happen to be lucky enough to be able to teach some curriculum.”
The Marshal’s Office started the Junior Police Academy-based class at Bayfield Middle School in response to community concern after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. Later, they added another class, Introduction to Law Enforcement, at the town’s high school.
Other schools in La Plata County teach shorter programs, but the marshals created semester-long or year-long elective classes.
“The first day my patrol car was here, we had parents that didn’t bring their kids to schools. They’re like, ‘There’s a patrol car, what’s going on?’” said Sgt. Dan Cyr, the school resource officer and instructor for the classes. “Now, we have parents who tell us, ‘If I don’t see a patrol car in the parking lot, I’m hesitant.’”
Nationwide, 42% of public schools had at least one SRO present at least one day a week during the 2015-16 school year, according to a 2018 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education.
McIntyre and Cyr said that attitude shift in Bayfield was a result of the deeper relationship the agency built with the community through the classes.
McIntyre said having trained law enforcement officers in schools can decrease the need to arm employees designated as security officers, an option that the Durango School District 9-R has been weighing this year.
Cyr’s students might one day learn about traffic stops by studying protocols before going outside to walk through a practice stop. On other days, students practice lockdown drills or learn how to use a chair or a trash can to disarm an intruder. In addition to learning how to throw a proper punch, they also learn how to de-escalate situations.
Cyr also brings in guest speakers representing a variety of positions in the legal system and takes students on field trips to the county jail, the district attorney’s office and the courthouse.
“I’m not trying to recruit people for law enforcement. It’s more educating them to understand what we do and then spread the word,” Cyr said.
The curriculum is also preventative. Students learn about personal rights regarding search and seizure and study the Constitution. They talk about drugs, healthy relationships and ways to cope with difficult emotions.
“I’ve wanted to be in this class since seventh grade,” said Kalon Meade, a senior in the class who is applying to the Coast Guard Academy. “I want to end up being in a position in life where I can protect the people around me.”
Other students chose the class because they like learning how to deal with difficult situations, or they are thinking about a career in law enforcement.
Shayden French said the class has helped her understand how police are treated and the risks and commitment involved in law enforcement.
“It takes a lot of your own personal time, and it takes a lot of self control,” she said.
Cyr celebrated 25 years in law enforcement this year, following years of work in the La Plata County Jail, the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and the Bayfield Marshal’s Office. He was also an instructor for the Southwest Law Enforcement Academy and directed the academy for three semesters.
The high school students in the class said Cyr was amazing and “very relatable – sort of like the fun uncle.”
Cyr describes himself as bashful. Not one to applaud himself, he mumbled his way through saying he was a fifth-degree black belt in Shotokan karate, a master level in the martial arts form.
Teaching for Cyr is about building a student’s confidence. His goal is to keep his students from being bullied, or the officers he trained from being disarmed and killed. Overall, it’s the students who keep him motivated.
“To hear, ‘Thank you,’ and ‘Hey, good class,’ or they high-five you – or in middle school, they give you a fist bump when they’re cruising down the hall – that makes you feel good,” he said.