One on one with…BPD Officer Phil Jones
By Wayne E. Rivet
When Phil Jones learned he had been accepted to represent Maine at the International Special Olympic Games in Austria this coming March, he was overwhelmed.
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
But, there was a catch.
While running a torch from province to province and giving speeches along the way would be no problem for the Bridgton Police Department officer, jumping into frigid lake water was something Phil Jones neither has done before nor something he looks forward to.
But, the Special Olympians come first, and Officer Jones won’t let them down. He will take the plunge in Schladming, Austria.
Officer Jones serves as BPD’s Torch Run Leg Leader and is a member of the Maine Torch Run Executive Council.
“This plunge will involve law enforcement officers from all over the world as we help to officially begin the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games,” Officer Jones said.
In March of 2017, Officer Jones will be setting out to join 84 other law enforcement officers from 24 countries to run the Olympics Flame of Hope through 49 cities and towns in Austria.
Special Olympics transforms lives through the joy of sport, every day, everywhere. They are the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities with more than 4.7 million athletes in 169 countries — and over a million volunteers.
The News had a chance to speak with Officer Jones about his involvement in Special Olympics, as well as his upcoming trip to Austria.
BN. How long have you been a police officer and what lured you to this career path?
Phil Jones: Ten years in Bridgton. I grew up in Portland, and my wife and I moved to Bridgton in 2005 after finding a house that we liked. I was hired by the police department the day after Christmas 2006. I had been on part-time. I rode with Doug Taft, who showed me the nooks and crannies of the town.
I initially wanted to go into teaching, of some sort. My bachelor’s degree is in theology from New England Bible in South Portland. I put myself through college working as a corrections officer at the jail in Portland. I fell in love with law enforcement and criminal justice. I went into it to help people in their time of need and keep the community where my family lives safe.
BN. How did you become interested in Special Olympics?
Phil Jones: When I joined the department here, I found out what a strong tradition existed between the Bridgton Police Department and Special Olympics thanks to Chief Bob Bell. I remember my first Torch Run. I had no idea what it was, only being told by Gary Chadbourne that I was running five miles. I hadn’t been to the Police Academy yet, so I really didn’t know how I would do running five miles. I showed up and did it.
What draws you into Special Olympics is when you meet the athletes. There are no barriers. You see them for who they are and the joy they have. For me, running down Main Street to Norway Savings is easy, my heart rate barely gets up. For some of these athletes, this may be one of their biggest achievements for the year. The feeling of accomplishment of getting to the bank and being cheered on by police officers and community members is remarkable.
Bernie King was the leg leader for a long time and kept prodding me to get involved with Special Olympics. When he retired from police, he gave me the opportunity to take the leg leader position — which I’ve done ever since.
BN. What is the most rewarding aspect of working with Special Olympics?
Phil Jones: The interaction with the athletes. I’ve traveled to Calgary for international conferences and met police officers from all over the world. But, athlete interaction is the best part. In 2012, I brought my family with me to watch the Games in Orono. It was rainy, and some outdoor event weren’t happening. But, when we were handing out medals, when the local athletes saw me — someone they knew — they were thrilled.
When I get to Austria, I will be giving a speech in Innsbruck. In that speech, I will be talking about an athlete from our town, Nick, who is remarkable. When we do our Torch Run, the athletes run Main Street, that’s it. A few years ago, I challenged Nick to run with us to Harrison. He accepted the offer, although he was a little hesitant. He ran about four miles. Never gave up. At the end, he was thrilled, his mom was thrilled. His mom later told me Nick only has half a lung. He didn’t let that stop him. The handshake and hug I got from Nick afterward was most rewarding. It has inspired others to take part in the run.
BN. How did you get selected to go to Austria for the International Games?
Phil Jones: Special Olympics on the national stage operates the same way as the ‘regular’ Olympics on NBC. They have a winter and summer Olympics. Officers from all over the world — about 80 — will go. We’ll start at one end of Austria and run through every province and stop in cities and give speeches along the way. We’ll end at the stadium, where the Games will take place. We’ll be in uniform at opening ceremonies.
Here, applications were taken, you talk about why you want to be a part of this (for me, it was a career goal — see Special Olympics on an international level, as well as see law enforcement in other countries like the Czech Republic). I was informed earlier this year that I would represent Maine. I will fly out on March 7 and be gone for two weeks.
BN. I understand there is an event you may not be looking forward to?
Phil Jones: Yes, there will be a polar dip. Part of this is to raise money for the Austrian Special Olympics program and bring awareness.
I don’t do cold water. I’ve never done Freezing for a Reason. It’s for a good cause. I don’t know if I want to do a trial run here. I’ll be glad to be bundled up and keep people off the ice here in Bridgton.
BN. Are you planning some fundraisers?
Phil Jones: I’ve purposely stayed away from some things because I don’t want to take away from Special Olympics Maine. We’ve received huge support from the community. One year, I climbed on top of Hayes True Value and ran a bucket drop. It was a great event. We raised over $4,000.
I’ve sent some letters out to bigger companies here and around Maine. My rough goal is to raise $2,500 to $3,000. I’m also going to work with some local businesses to do a Trivia Night or other small events. I just don’t want people to feel overwhelmed about donating to Special Olympics. We’ll let people know when we will be doing some events.
Community support of Special Olympics has been impressive. Support comes in a couple of ways — you can’t judge it just on money. When times are tough, people still give, but maybe not as much. I’ve seen a steady increase since I’ve been the leg leader, going from $2,000 to $4,000 to $7,000 last year. The support is people showing up at events that we do. I get letters of appreciation. We get tremendous support from the community.
It’s really impressive that our former chief, Bob Bell, brought this worldwide event to Maine. If you go to an event at the national level and you mention ‘Bob Bell,’ he is still very well-known in the Torch Run circle. It’s a great history and legacy.
BN. Do we have a large number of kids involved in Special Olympics?
Phil Jones: More and more. It’s always growing. We have our local group, NFI Bridge Crossing. We have a number of kids who are family members of local residents. The value of Special Olympics is giving kids who might not feel valued because they are built differently a chance to succeed and be cheered on for their accomplishments. For some athletes, the Games are one time in the year that they can leave their homes and be in a place that they are shown some respect. In some cultures, they are hidden from society. Here, the Games give us a chance to celebrate these kids.
Law enforcement is a people business, and if you lose sight of that, we’ve lost our way. When you take the time to see who these athletes are, it’s shocking. They will be your biggest fan — it’s humbling.
To make a tax-deductible donation to Special Olympics, send a check for Special Olympics, c/o Bridgton Police Department, 8 Iredale Street, Bridgton, ME 04009, or for more information, contact Officer Phil Jones at email@example.com or call 207-647-8814.