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As law enforcement leaps into Polar Bear Plunge, Carroll's top cops reflect on why it's a worthy initiative

The importance of Law Enforcement Torch Run events, like the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge which supports Special Olympics Maryland, has always been obvious to some of Carroll County’s top cops.

But to make a personal connection with the cause requires an “aha” moment.

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Take Jeffrey Spaulding, chief of the Westminster Police Department, for example. He’s been involved in Torch Run events for more than three decades — working the whole week of the Polar Bear Plunge for 20 years.

The veteran police chief, who will retire from his post in March, has had the opportunity to meet many Special Olympics athletes over the years. One stands out as his “aha” moment.

In 2005, Spaulding attended the Special Olympics World Games in Nagano, Japan. He was paired with Michael, a 30-year-old athlete. They roomed together for almost three weeks.

The team from the Carroll County Sheriff's Office Training Academy runs for the plunge. The 2019 Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge to benefit Maryland Special Olympics was held Friday with law enforcement jumping into the Chesapeake Bay at Sandy Point State Park.
The team from the Carroll County Sheriff's Office Training Academy runs for the plunge. The 2019 Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge to benefit Maryland Special Olympics was held Friday with law enforcement jumping into the Chesapeake Bay at Sandy Point State Park. (Paul W. Gillespie / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

“The first day you notice the differences, but by the end I realized we were 99 percent the same,” Spaulding said. “There’s so many ways that we’re alike and so few ways we’re different. I think if more people got the chance to spend time with athletes, they would realize that as well.”

Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees has been a Law Enforcement Torch Run participant for the last 10 years. He started by working the Polar Bear Plunge as a Maryland state trooper, before the event grew too large and had to be spread across multiple days — one for law enforcement, another for the public.

While DeWees doesn’t plunge himself — he loathes cold water — he’s active in other Torch Run events, like the Cops on Rooftops event. He said his deputies and trainees participate in the plunge and other events, beyond their own altruistic sense, because they know the Special Olympics Maryland is important to DeWees.

The sheriff has met many local athletes through the Special Olympics. He said he makes an effort to frequent restaurants where some of the athletes work. He’s always greeted by a big hug and smile at the Westminster Panera Bread, for example.

The team from the Carroll County Sheriff's Office Training Academy poses with Special Olympics athlete Jacob Hinton before the plunge. The 2019 Maryland State Police Polar Bear Police Plunge to benefit Maryland Special Olympics was held Friday at Sandy Point State Park.
The team from the Carroll County Sheriff's Office Training Academy poses with Special Olympics athlete Jacob Hinton before the plunge. The 2019 Maryland State Police Polar Bear Police Plunge to benefit Maryland Special Olympics was held Friday at Sandy Point State Park. (Paul W. Gillespie / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

“That’s been the ‘aha’ moment for me, to see she’s thriving, she’s doing well,” DeWees said. “And I can’t imagine if Special Olympics Maryland or Special Olympics in general didn’t have the relationship with law enforcement that it does, that that particular person would walk up to me and say ‘hi’ to me and give me a hug every time I see her.”

Law enforcement raises roughly half of the Special Olympics Maryland funds each year, Spaulding said. That money allows the majority of athletes to participate in the games without costing their families a dime, he added.

But law enforcement’s impact is beyond the funds they provide for equipment, travel and medals. The Polar Bear Plunge aims to raise $2.5 million in 2019, according to the Special Olympics Maryland website. By Friday afternoon, they had raised about $1.9 million.

The team from the Carroll County Sheriff's Office Training Academy stands during the national anthem. The Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge to benefit Maryland Special Olympics was held Friday with law enforcement jumping into the Chesapeake Bay at Sandy Point State Park.
The team from the Carroll County Sheriff's Office Training Academy stands during the national anthem. The Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge to benefit Maryland Special Olympics was held Friday with law enforcement jumping into the Chesapeake Bay at Sandy Point State Park. (Paul W. Gillespie / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Members of the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office were among the many county law enforcement personnel who raced into the Chesapeake Bay on a windy Friday morning with the air temperature in the high 30s and the water temperature just above freezing.

While DeWees didn’t plunge, a contingent of his deputies and trainees did. Every time the sheriff participates in Torch Run events, he keeps in mind his friend at Panera — his “aha” moment. And when those representing his agency took to the frigid waters of the bay Friday, they were probably thinking of their “aha” moment, too.

“I think the relationship does provide confidence for the athletes to approach law enforcement and to be friends with them,” DeWees said. “It empowers them and they become better athletes and they become better people and they become stronger-minded individuals.”

Plungers hit the water. The 2019 Maryland State Police Polar Bear Police Plunge to benefit Maryland Special Olympics was held Friday with law enforcement from all around the state jumping into the Chesapeake Bay at Sandy Point State Park.
Plungers hit the water. The 2019 Maryland State Police Polar Bear Police Plunge to benefit Maryland Special Olympics was held Friday with law enforcement from all around the state jumping into the Chesapeake Bay at Sandy Point State Park. (Paul W. Gillespie / Baltimore Sun Media Group)
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