Law Enforcement Torch Run supporting Special Olympics Southern California kicks off planning efforts at OCSD Training Center

By Jessica Peralta

Local law enforcement agencies and Special Olympics representatives gathered April 3 for a kick-off meeting for the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run, an event that last year raised $1.3 million with the help of Southern California law enforcement agencies.

“This is a great opportunity to show our other side of law enforcement,” said Orange County Sheriff’s Department Undersheriff Don Barnes, who opened the morning meeting held at the OCSD Regional Training Center in Tustin.

Lt. Mike Peters listens during an OCSD Special Olympics Torch kick-off meeting.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Several Orange County agencies were represented in the audience, including Irvine and Huntington Beach police departments.

“It’s given me so much more than I’ve given Special Olympics,” said Irvine PD Commander Mike Hallinan, who has been involved with the Torch Run for 24 years and serves on the executive council.

This year, the Torch Run – when law enforcement teams run the “Flame of Hope” through Southern California cities – takes place May 28 through June 8, with most of the Orange County leg occurring May 31. Funds raised through this and other events – including Tip a Cop and the Plane Pull (which is just what it sounds like) – go to fund uniforms and other necessities for Special Olympics Southern California athletes.

Irvine PD Commander Mike Hallinan leads a kick-off meeting for the upcoming Special Olympics torch run.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Athlete and OC Global Messenger Tony Briones spoke to the group about how he’s benefitted from being part of the Special Olympics.

“I had never played sports before joining Special Olympics,” he told the audience. He joked: “They found out very quickly, I did not know what I was doing.”

Special Olympics athlete Tony Briones is introduced by Irvine PD Commander Mike Hallinan during a Special Olympics Torch kick-off meeting.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

But 28 years later, he’s played multiple sports, including basketball and soccer, and has won the shot put gold medal eight years in a row.

“I even tried swimming, but I sink like a rock,” he said to audience laughter.

He said that in addition to competing, he also has given many speeches.

Special Olympics Athlete and OC Global Messenger Tony Briones proudly shows the Special Olympics medal he earned during a kick-off meeting for law enforcement and other organizers for the upcoming Orange County Special Olympics Torch Run.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“I’ve met many wonderful, kind, and generous people,” he said, adding that the Special Olympics has helped him learn sportsmanship and leadership, as well as build confidence and friendships.

And he said many of the experiences he’s had would not have been possible without the support of the community, including law enforcement.

“Police officers are one of the biggest fundraisers for the Special Olympics,” he said, adding that officers also put in many volunteer hours. “Your organization has made a world of difference to our organization.”

OC Sheriff Department Capt. Jason Park attends an OCSD Special Olympics Torch kick-off meeting.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Hallinan said the goal is to increase the amount raised through the Torch Run. This year the council hopes to surpass last year’s number and make it over $2 million.

“It all comes down to agency participation,” he said.

Huntington Beach PD Sgt. Dave Dereszynski talks about making a difference during a Special Olympics Torch kick-off meeting.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Huntington Beach PD Sgt. Dave Dereszynski, who is also on the council, talked about the importance of getting new participants involved with the Torch Run.

“I just want to challenge you guys to carry on that tradition,” he said.

Added Hallinan about the fundraising events, “To put our cops in a different environment, where everything they do is positive, is great.”