Leawood Officers Inspire Hope

To be a cop, you need to pass a physical ability test. You must be fast, agile and ready to run. That means muscle endurance and upper body and core strength. You must also have the emotional and intellectual capabilities required to deal with heated situations.

Leawood police officers meet all of those qualifications. They possess the strength to pursue and apprehend suspects, the intellectual stamina to stand firm, and the mental capacity to process crimes—some of which could be horrific.

These amazing men and women, who have chosen to protect our city’s residents, also have been called to use their time and talents to support those who cannot meet such rigorous demands. For more than 35 years, the Leawood Police Department has assisted Special Olympics, the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics provides children and adults year-round training and mentoring in a variety of sports, including basketball, tennis and track.

The department first became involved in the 1980s, working with the Law Enforcement Torch Initiative. “We carried the Special Olympic torch to Wichita, and then later between Johnson and Wyandotte counties,” says Sergeant Jordan Couturier.

Next March, Sergeant Couturier will travel to Abu Dhabi for the 2019 Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) Final Leg for Special Olympics. “I will be running throughout the United Arab Emirates with officers from 50 states and around the world to raise awareness and share the message of hope. I am excited to represent all LETR programs in Kansas!”  

Couturier’s association with Special Olympics reaches back more than a decade. Then, five years ago, his son Gabriel was born with Down syndrome. “The fears and tears that you first go through are hard to describe. But Gabriel solidified my involvement in Special Olympics, personalized it and ignited my passion.” The Couturier family has participated in the Young Athletes program where Gabriel and other athletes focus on agility, throwing and tossing.

Officer Christopher Hargis, another everyday hero, spends his time answering calls. In his off-hours, he helps coordinate the Midnight Run, one of the department’s largest fundraisers. It is an annual 5K/10K run in July along Tomahawk Creek Parkway. Squad cars, with flashing blue and red LED light bars, block the parkway at 119th Street and College Boulevard. “It’s quite a sight to see, nearly 250 runners with glow sticks and necklaces. The night air is cool, and it is so quiet you can encourage others across the parkway to keep up the good work.” Officer Hargis took first place in the very first Midnight Run years ago. “Following the race, we pack up the signs, coolers and tents, and head home to bed!”

Money is raised through entry fees and corporate sponsors. KC Running Company handles the course layout, timing and solicits some backers. “It just feels good to do something for these kids — helping provide them with opportunities where they can compete and win!” says Officer Hargis.

Julia Berger, a records specialist, began her involvement with Special Olympics in 2009. When founding officer Shawn Farris retired, Berger took over coordinating the Midnight Run. She now shares the job with Officer Hargis. “It feels good to give back. It’s so worthwhile to raise money for athletics and mentoring,” Berger says.

At local Special Olympics competitions, uniformed officers often present awards. When needed, Berger fills in. “It’s great to hand a child a ribbon and see that smile. That’s a lot of love right there.”

Berger also enjoys the Tip a Cop events, where department members work in local restaurants. Each January, Leawood’s “Copsicles Team” jumps into icy water as part of the Kansas City area’s Polar Plunge for Special Olympics. A summer car show raises money through entry fees. Here, 50-80 collectors of classic rides pull into Park Place for a one-day event.

These everyday heroes, working to protect the city and support Special Olympics, need your support. To donate, go to SpecialOlympics.org/Kansas