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West Hartford Police Hold Alternative Version of Law Enforcement Torch Run

Screenshot of West Hartford Police Department Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Connecticut video.

The annual Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics has been transformed into a virtual run for 2020, with West Hartford Police joining in the effort.

By Ronni Newton

Last June, a crowd of West Hartford Police Department officers, officers from the state police and other local police departments, Special Olympics athletes, and supporters gathered in Blue Back Square for a end-of-day rally to celebrate the conclusion of the second day of the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics.

By the conclusion of the annual three-day Torch Run in 2019, more than 1,500 officers had carried the “Flame of Hope” for more than 530 miles across the state.

In 2020, however, the Law Enforcement Torch Run, like countless other events impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, could not be held as planned.

But there was a plan B –  and West Hartford Police are participating in dramatic fashion in the virtual Torch Run.

“Special Olympics reached out to all of the police departments that are usually involved,” Off. Irene Klein of the West Hartford Police Department’s Community Relations Division said. The cancelation of the Torch Run, and the games, was understandable, but also upsetting, Klein said.

Departments were asked to provide a video, to be used in the creation of the virtual Torch Run. “We wanted to continue to show our support for the athletes,” Klein said.

She reached out to various divisions, including to Det. Ross Friedman, who also owns the aerial photography and videography business Overwatch LLC.

Friedman, who recently filmed and produced a “Message of Thanks from West Hartford First Responders” with the police and fire departments as a tribute to healthcare workers, created the “WHPD Olympic Torch Run” video, utilizing a drone.

“We felt that this video was our way of showing the athletes that we still want to support them and that this event is still important to the police department,” Friedman said.

There were about 16 members of the department who participated in the virtual Torch Run – including a K-9 team. Some had to change their schedules, some turned down overtime, and one came in during time off to participate, Klein said.

The virtual run was filmed on May 6, and the public was not informed in advance that it would be taking place because they wanted to avoid a crowd of onlookers. The participants followed the same route as one of the legs they ran last year – from the MDC reservoir on Farmington Avenue to Blue Back Square.

The runners change from scene to scene in the video, Klein said, to limit the number of people running together. The only time all of the participants are seen together is when they are seen running down Memorial Road into Blue Back Square. Memorial Road was temporarily shut down while the filming was taking place.

When all participants stand together at the end, they are physically distant, but create a powerful message.

The result was amazing, Klein said. “So many stepped out to do as much for the athletes as they could, even if they couldn’t be there in person.

When held in its regular format, the Special Olympics Torch Run concludes with the lighting of the cauldron and is a prelude to the start of the Special Olympics Summer Games, which were originally scheduled for June 10-12. This year, the games will be held in a virtual format beginning with the opening ceremonies and an athlete dance on June 12, and special video messages on June 13.

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