Article Lisa Allen | Photography Susan Motley
With the mission to serve and protect, police departments across the metro strive to provide communities with a wide array of outreach programs that encompass everything from criminal investigations to traffic safety. With a non-stop schedule of working with citizens to create a safe place to live, one might think that the officers’ duties are done once their shifts end.
Not so for the Leawood Police Department (LPD). With unyielding dedication to Special Olympics Kansas, many officers and employees dedicate their time and individual talents to a variety of fundraising events throughout the calendar year, and in doing so carry on a tradition that began more than 30 years ago.
It all started in Wichita in 1981. Then Police Chief Richard LaMunyon, a Special Olympics volunteer, recognized not only a lack of public awareness about the benefits that the Special Olympics afforded the intellectually disabled, but also little understanding about the benefits enjoyed by coaches and referees who volunteered to work with the athletes. He saw the opportunity to put the full force of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) behind one charitable beneficiary, and worked diligently to bring his vision to reality.
Thanks to the persistence of LaMunyon, the IACP became the founding law enforcement organization of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics. The run boasts active involvement from police unions to federal law enforcement agencies to correction officers.
Fifteen years later, Master Patrol Officer Shawn Farris was a rookie officer and asked by now-retired Detective Joe Langer to participate in the Torch Run and help sell t-shirts to raise funds. Farris says that he had heard about Special Olympics while he was in school, but he did not know much about the relationship between the LPD and Special Olympics. It wasn’t until he became more actively involved, he said, that he truly understood the extensive services offered by Special Olympics.
At that time, Farris was the sole participant from the LPD. The Department began its involvement by participating in the Polar Plunge, and through the years, has extended its support to not only the Torch Run and the Polar Plunge, but to a variety of events that include Tip-A-Cop, Cops on Top, Run WITH The Law, the Midnight 5K Run and the Law Enforcement Summer Games.
Despite the variety of events that now occur each year, the Law Enforcement Torch Run is still the largest fund raiser and most recognized public awareness vehicle for the services of Special Olympics. The Torch Run begins in Kansas and extends not only to every state but to 36 countries worldwide, including Canada, Mexico, China and most major countries. “Athletes will run in the Torch Run, but only law enforcement officers carry the flame,” says Farris. A visual symbol of their ongoing commitment, the officers are true guardians of the flame and advocates for the athletes they support.
“It can be a really emotional experience,” says Farris. “It’s great to know that the athletes and their families appreciate us.” The officers present medals to the athletes during the events, says Farris, and he cites it as a rewarding part of his job.
Farris shares that despite the efforts of Special Olympics Kansas and the LPD, awareness is still not as high as he’d like it to be. He recounts that sometimes people are unsure of how to communicate with the athletes, and that the outreach that the officers provide serves as a bridge of sorts to foster enhanced communication.
“They’re just like the rest of us,” he says, “but they are living with challenges that cannot be cured and that will be with them throughout their lifetime. It’s the most rewarding experience to know what a difference we make for them and their families.”
Participating in various events also gives officers a chance to interact with the community in positive ways, and extends the encouraging image that officers strive to exemplify every day.
“I want people to know that we do more than they might think,” says Farris. “We serve the public in many different ways, and the benefits come back to us tenfold through the friendships and relationships that develop between us, the athletes, volunteers and employees of Special Olympics Kansas.”
Despite his dedication through the past 15 years, Farris prefers to focus attention on the efforts of the entire department rather than just his own accomplishments. Farris has served as Johnson County Coordinator and was elected to the Law Enforcement Torch Run Executive Council in 2011.
Farris has been awarded with two prestigious awards for his dedication to Special Olympics. He has been inducted into the Special Olympics Kansas’ Richard La Munyon Hall of Fame for his unwavering support and commitment to fundraising, and also recently received the John Carion “Unsung Hero” Award at the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run International Conference in Calgary Alberta, Canada. The “Unsung Hero” award is an international honor presented to only three recipients each year.
Farris is quick to point out that all of the law enforcement agencies in Johnson County participate in the various events and go to great lengths to raise the most money in the state of Kansas. T-shirt sales are a primary source of fundraising; sales start now and run through August. Upcoming events include the Midnight Run in April and the Kansas Law Enforcement Summer Games. LL
Registration forms, event calendars and more information can be found at KansasTorchRun.org and KSSO.org.