Most cops are pretty grounded individuals, but that was arguably not the case on Saturday, Aug. 19, when Officer Patrick Walsh, of the Manchester Police Department, climbed atop the roof of the Raymour and Flanagan Outlet Store on Hale Road, erected a tent, and refused to come down.
That is, until he raised a hoped-for $1,000 for Special Olympics Connecticut.
The stunt, of course, was all in good fun, and one of many fundraising events the Manchester Police Department holds throughout the year on behalf of law enforcement for Special Olympics.
Founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics is the largest program in the world for people with intellectual disabilities. It provides year-round training and athletic competition opportunities for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
Law enforcement organizations have a long and dedicated relationship with Special Olympics, thanks to the efforts of Wichita, Kansas Police Chief Richard LaMunyon, who in 1981 launched the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) as a means to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics Kansas.
A successful endeavor, LaMunyon presented his program in 1983 to the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Today as "Guardians of the Flame," members of local law enforcement departments, along with Special Olympics athletes, raise awareness by carrying the flame of hope, a symbol of courage and celebration of diversity, to opening ceremonies around the world.
To date, law enforcement agencies have raised more than $600 million for Special Olympics, and is one of the nonprofit's largest grassroots fundraisers.
"One of my roles here at Special Olympics is working with local police departments under our LETR program. The LETR is a three-day run that leads up to our Summer Games (held in June) and it is one of our biggest fundraising efforts at Special Olympics Connecticut," said Associate Director of Special Events Jeffrey Veneziano.
Beyond the annual torch run, local police departments hold various fundraisers throughout the year, including Cop on Top events, Tip a Cop events, polar plunges, and other more traditional fundraisers like pasta nights.
"All of the donations collected go back to the 13,000 athletes and unified partners (their teammates without disabilities) across the state to help provide state competitions and activities for them to participate in," said Veneziano.
"Officer Walsh is very dedicated to the Special Olympics cause and movement throughout the year," said Lauren Young, coordinator of special events, who attended the hours-long event. "He also participates in the Tip a Cop event at several Dunkin' Donuts' in town, which will be held next week. The money raised will go toward the fall sports competition to be held in a few weeks."
"The Manchester Police Department is always getting involved in community events," said Officer Maria Gray, who, with a few fellow officers as well as a youth Explorers, chose to stay on the ground and periodically hoist the bucket of donations (and perhaps an occasional bottle of cold water) up to the roof via a rope pulley system.
"[Officer Walsh] is planning on going to a Red Sox game later today, so we hope this will get him acclimated to the hot weather," she joked.
"For us, it's nice to give back to the community," added Gray. "It's not always about traffic violations and making sure people follow the law. It's good for people to see us in another light, and what better cause than the Special Olympics."