LINGLE – Stop sign in hand, Police Chief Endra Moen stands at the crosswalk outside Lingle-Fort Laramie Elementary School and walks arriving students, parents and staff across the street. She is greeted with smiles, high-fives and more than one hug during the frenzied activity just ahead of the first bell.
“I used to sit at the crosswalk on Main Street, but we don’t have a lot of kids that utilize that crosswalk,” Moen said. “When the new elementary school went in with that new roundabout, drop off really became (complicated). We also had complaints of people running stop signs with kids in the street, kids couldn’t be seen, (speeding) – so I just started spending time at the crosswalk. I thought, well, I could walk them across the street instead of stand there.
“Now, it’s one of the best parts of my day,” she continued. “One little boy, we make silly faces at each other every morning – he invited me to eat lunch with him on his birthday. One little girl always asks me a math question, and if I get the right answer, she brings me back a candy bar.”
Moen said her basic role at the school is to ensure student safety.
“One of the best ways to prevent (school violence) is to have an officer at the school,” she explained. “I could be walking around being miserable, or I could just have fun with the students. It’s turned out to be amazing.”
Moen began serving the Town of Lingle 10 years ago this January, and said with the graduating class of 2010, she began to strengthen her bond with students at LFL.
“Of course, that class is all grown up and many have kids of their own, now,” she said. “Sometimes kids get in trouble, and I’ve been able to carry over a relationship from them being teenagers to being adults. I’ve been able to help them through problems they’ve encountered in their adulthood.
“I like that the children are not afraid of me – I don’t want them to be afraid of me,” she added. “Sometimes they don’t have good homes. Sometimes, even if they do, they don’t feel like they can talk to their parents … by the time they’re in high school, we’ve had the conversation many times that there’s nothing they can do that will shock me … we can work it out.”
A large Bullmastiff with a tendency to drool, otherwise known as Ringo, has also become an intricate part of the school and community.
“He was certified as a therapy dog in Mrs. Rogers’ second-grade class when this year’s sophomores were in second grade,” Moen said, adding her beloved pet is “essentially retired” at this point, due to his age. “He comes out when he’s requested and for special occasions. We use him not only for reading programs – we did ‘Reading with Ringo’ one year – we use him for dog safety, how not to treat dogs … and just as a way to bond with kids.”
With nine years under her belt at the helm of Lingle’s law enforcement, Moen is officially the longest standing female police chief in the state of Wyoming. Even so, she didn’t always know her path would lead to this point.
“I have always worked with kids,” she said. “My mom was a sign language interpreter. When I was … in elementary school, she would work in the summer in the daycare for developmentally-disabled students. So, I was exposed to that population from a young age. When I was in high school, the Colorado Disability Program had a charter at our school, and I spent some time working with them.
“In my early 20s, I had just gotten married and had two little kids,” Moen continued. “I was going to college, and I needed a job. I was hired by the local school district to be a bus aide. Nobody wanted this one bus, we called them – at the time – emotionally disturbed. They were middle school boys at high risk, very defiant, and we found I just had this natural ability to work with them … It got me more interested in psychology and sociology, which progressed into becoming a special education paraprofessional working with high-needs and special-needs kids.”
Eventually, Moen found herself employed at Adams Youth Services Center, a juvenile detention facility, in Brighton, Colo. She taught many former gang members life skills, assisted them with General Educational Development (GED) learning, and helped the regular education instructors teach a variety of subjects across a multitude of learning levels.
“I had to learn to adapt material across the board for whatever child I had,” Moen said. “I just learned how to adapt life to whoever I was working with, and that kind of got me into adult corrections when I moved to Wyoming.”
Moen soon realized she preferred working with youth in comparison to adults, and studied addictions and treatment.
“Somehow it all came together when I came to Lingle,” she said. “I got to throw everything together into one big pot – it’s amazing. I love my job.”
By and large, Moen has been embraced by the community, whether parents, students or school officials.
“Having Endra in the building fostering good relationships with our students helps them be better citizens and also creates that law enforcement presence that may deter something unfortunate from happening in our schools,” LFL Principal Cory Gilchriest said.
“I think it’s important, especially in this day and age, that children have a better relationship with law enforcement,” Talitha Fleenor, who has one son graduated from LFL, a son in middle school, and a daughter in elementary school, said. “Endra has a wonderful relationship with the kids. She’s not seen as a bad guy with a gun that will haul you off – she’s a confidant for a lot of these kids, and can bring a lot of her past experiences in to help them.
“I just think it’s important that she’s in the school,” Fleenor added. “She’s absolutely a huge part of our community, and being such a small community, our school is an enormous part of that. She knows quite a bit about mental illness, bullying, and she takes all those into dealings with the kids.”
Kam Ashburn, a former student, agreed.
“(Endra’s) an amazing, caring and loving person,” he said. “From what I remember when I was in school, she talked to us about how bullying can have negative impacts during adulthood, how drugs are horrid and how alcohol can be very dangerous for yourself and those around you. She’s helped me through so much, as well. Honestly, she was like my mom … I went to her with stuff like I would have gone to my dad, and she always helped me in one way or another. She cares about Lingle and loves her job … she loves to help no matter what.”
But make no mistake, as maternal as Moen is in her role as police chief, she believes in tough love, if necessary.
“Someone told me being a cop is just like being a parent,” she said. “It kind of changed the way I was thinking about it. Some of the kids call me ‘Mom’, some call me ‘Auntie E’, ‘Cop buddy’ was a nickname there for a while.
“I have warned (kids), cited them, arrested a few of them,” Moen continued. “And they still talk to me, and show up or call when they have problems – and their parents call when they have problems.
“It’s a small thing – just being present, being visible, working with people, and to know the kids.”