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Police carry torch toward Special Olympic games

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

A crowd of Clayton County police officers jogged out of headquarters and headed toward Atlanta.

Two dozen of them, clad in matching sky-blue T-shirts and tennis shoes, followed Police Chief Jeff Turner Thursday morning, and followed the torch he was holding in front of him as he ran. They ran north on State Route 54, on one of the last legs of this year's Special Olympics torch run.

Law enforcement agencies around the state have been running with the torch, called the "Flame of Hope," on a two-week, 1,000-mile route that ends on Friday at Emory University, at the start of the State Summer Games Opening Ceremony. Henry County Police participated in the torch run on Wednesday, carrying the torch up Ga. Highway 81, and the Fayette County Sheriff's Office passed the torch to the Clayton County Police on Thursday morning.

"This is important," said Turner, "because we support this organization and these athletes. Anything that's this positive and productive, we want to be a part of."

Special Olympics Georgia, which provides "year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities," receives significant annual funding from the law enforcement run.

Capt. Greg Dickens, the county police department spokesman, said organizations like the Special Olympics often turn to the law enforcement community for help raising money.

"And they should," he said, "because, as law enforcement officers, we're always looking for ways to help the community. We're in law enforcement, because we have a heart to help."

Dickens said the torch run, involving an estimated 100 law enforcement agencies across the state, raised about $600,000.

The Clayton County Police participation was noted, by organizers, for a high turn out. More officers came and ran than in any other agency, Dickens said, each buying the sky-blue T-shirt for $10, money which will go to help the more than 22,000 athletes involved in the program.

The officers ran 8.2 miles, up 54 toward the Home Depot in Forest Park. Dickens, who said he's run the route probably 15 times since the torch run began in Georgia in 1987, said it is exhausting, but satisfying.

"It's good, knowing you're doing something for these people who need it," he said.