‘Reset my perception’: Why police say helping Special Olympics is good for the soul

When police officers support Special Olympics, they are doing more than making sure people with physical and intellectual disabilities have opportunities to compete in athletics and have fun.

They’re also doing something to benefit their own well-being, Geneva officer Chuck Parisi believes.

Parisi this month received the Flame of Hope Award from Special Olympics Illinois for his nearly 20 years of volunteer service to the organization. It is the highest honor given by Special Olympics Illinois, presented annually to one person and one police department for their steadfast involvement in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics.

A Geneva cop since 2005, Parisi, 54, said he was “strongly encouraged” by former Chief Bill Kidwell to participate in the department’s Special Olympics fundraisers, such as the annual Cop on a Rooftop at Dunkin’ locations.

He was hooked after the first event.

“What a wonderful feeling this is,” Parisi recalled.

More than money

Getting involved with Special Olympics, including handing out awards to athletes at competitions, is good for the soul, according to Parisi. He has been inspired by the dedication of the athletes, as well as the kindness and support they show one another in the midst of competition.

He recalls working a fill-the-jug collection one time at the entrance to a strip mall. A beat up car approached ‒ the kind he normally would have found suspicious — but then the driver rolled down the window and put money in the jug.

“It helped me not to be a jaded person. It reset my perception,” Parisi said. “It is important for police, because it helps us with our mental health.”

Once he got hooked on helping, Parisi became driven to get the Geneva Police Department listed on the annual Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics T-shirt. To do that, a department had to raise at least $15,000.

When the officer in charge retired, Parisi and fellow officers Brad Jerdee and Mark Russo took over and ramped things up. That’s included Parisi being named “Top Cop” six times for raising the most money for the annual Special Olympics Polar Plunge.

They also got creative, with Parisi launching a Tip a Cop event, when officers work as servers at a steakhouse and donate their gratuities to Special Olympics.

The annual Keith Koza pig roast fundraiser, named after an officer who died of cancer in 2009, is another favorite. It’s gone from collecting $1,800 in the early days to about $8,000 now, Parisi said.

Even the small things help: Instead of having a vending machine for sodas and energy drinks, the department keeps a refrigerator stocked with beverages, along with an honor box for donations.

Last year, the department raised $46,387 for Special Olympics, nearly three times more than the average department.

Parisi said much of the credit goes to community members who donate to the cause.

“That’s where this money is coming from,” he said. “I’m very appreciative to them.”

The numbers

Started in 1981 by police in Wichita, Kansas, the Law Enforcement Torch Run and related events like polar plunges and Cop on a Rooftop have raised more than $600 million for Special Olympics. Each year, nearly 100,000 officers take part in the run itself, carrying the “Flame of Hope” through their communities and into opening ceremonies of local competitions.

In Illinois, police officers have raised more than $70 million to support Special Olympics athletes since 1986.

Customs weaponry

Last week, we told you about the record number of firearms confiscated last year at airport security checkpoints across the country.

It seems TSA agents aren’t the only ones with their hands full.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the international mail facility near O’Hare International Airport have seized 117 weapon-modifying devices — many of them illegal — already this year, federal authorities said this week.

These switches seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers would unlawfully convert semiautomatic handguns to fully automatic. Courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Customs officers seized nine shipments concealing 55 switches that can unlawfully convert a handgun into an automatic weapon. Another shipment held five AR-15 “Auto Sear” parts that convert the rifle to full automatic fire. And 33 more contained 57 silencers, which are illegal in Illinois.

These suppressors were among the 117 weapon-modifying devices seized so far this year by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the international mail facility near O'Hare. Courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Most of the items arrived from China and were heading to locations throughout the U.S., officials said.

Cryptocurrency for crime

It should not surprise us that people who buy illegal, sketchy stuff on the internet sometimes pay with cryptocurrency. The digital money uses blockchain technology that makes tracing transactions complicated, at best.

In this Feb. 9, 2021, file photo, the bitcoin logo appears on the display screen of a cryptocurrency ATM. The federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network reported this week that cryptocurrency is being used more and more for online child sexual exploitation and human trafficking transactions. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File) The Associated Press

But it’s not just illegal items being bought with cryptocurrency, according to a new report from the federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The analysis shows an increase in Bank Secrecy Act reports regarding using digital currency for online child sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

“Human traffickers and perpetrators of related crimes despicably exploit adults and children for financial gain,” FinCEN Director Andrea Gacki said in a news release. “Financial institutions’ vigilance and timely reporting is critical to providing law enforcement agencies with the information needed to investigate potential cases of human trafficking, sexual crimes against children, and related crimes. This reporting ultimately helps law enforcement protect and save innocent lives.”

In June 2021, FinCEN identified human trafficking and cybercrime as among the “Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism National Priorities” issued pursuant to the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020.

Villa Park police sued

Villa Park police are being sued over a crash involving a squad vehicle.

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 9 in DuPage County Circuit Court, alleges a woman was injured because an officer drove through an intersection without activating a device that would have changed his light to green and the others to red.

The device was not working, according to the lawsuit. Under village policy, that meant the officer should not have driven through the red light, the suit alleges.

The crash happened Feb. 13, 2023, at St. Charles and Addison roads. The plaintiff was driving south on Addison and turning left onto eastbound St. Charles. Officer Connor Frakes was headed east on St. Charles, using the westbound lanes, and driving above the speed limit, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also contends Frakes engaged in a response to a call when the risk of injury or death to the general public exceeded the benefits of apprehending suspects.

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