Law enforcement officers from around the world will join athletes in Abu Dhabi for the 2019 World Summer Games of the Special Olympics. Among them will be Chapel Hill Police Special Events Officer Phillip Smith, who was recently selected to represent North Carolina in what will be the largest event in Special Olympics history.
Smith will join 111 law enforcement officers from around the world to participate in the final leg of the law enforcement torch run, carrying the “Flame of Hope” to the opening ceremonies of the World Games.
The final leg event represents the culmination of previous torch run events completed around the globe. Smith's Final Leg team represents athlete Paul Asaro from New York. Smith said he was overwhelmed and humbled to be chosen to represent North Carolina in Abu Dhabi.
“I was truly honored for the selection," Smith said. "It’s something I’m very proud of. It brings good press here to the Chapel Hill community and for all the athletes around North Carolina and for the whole world. So, it’s nice to be part of that."
Smith began his law enforcement career in 1990 and has worked for the Town of Chapel Hill since 1992. He is currently responsible for helping public safety officials prepare for and manage large events in Chapel Hill, such as Halloween and the NCAA Championship celebrations.
For the past 23 years, Smith has helped organize events that have raised more than $1.4 million for the Special Olympics, including gold tournaments, raffles, 5K's and polar plunges. Smith said local law enforcement gets involved in the fundraising for Special Olympics North Carolina as well.
Colleen Lanigan, Special Olympics coordinator for Chapel Hill and Carrboro, expressed her excitement about Smith’s selection.
“Officer Smith has been involved with the Special Olympics torch run fundraising effort for the state office and for our local program for a long number of years,” Lanigan said. “He is so dedicated to the Special Olympics community. He runs those fundraising efforts to raise money and awareness for our local program and for the state office."
In addition to being involved with Special Olympics, the Chapel Hill Police Department has continued to implement Crisis Intervention Team training for officers. Since 2008, officers have gone through CIT training to better understand how to approach people with disabilities or substance abuse problems in critical situations.
Captain Danny Lloyd said that this approach helps residents get the help they need rather than add to the number of people within the criminal justice system.
“I think that Chapel Hill is right there with other progressive departments around the country as far as our efforts of preparing our officers to deal with special populations,” Lloyd said.
“The community of Chapel Hill has always been one that has been very open and inclined to trying to help people that are in need. So I think that lends our department to fall in line with that community philosophy.”