More Than a Uniform: Frank Coe on LETR
The police uniform in the Special Olympics athlete community is one that is almost magnetic. More times than not, the athletes immediately feel comfortable enough to greet the men and women with a warm hug and bright smile.
Frank Coe, the former Chief of the Beaumont Police Department, found that out firsthand when he attended his first Summer Games in casual Dockers and a polo shirt. While handing out medals, he noticed the officer in full uniform next to him and the spirited reactions from the athletes who received their medals. Once Frank realized the connection associated to the uniform, he made it a point to drive home and return to the event in uniform.
“The interaction between the uniform and the athlete was so much different than I was experiencing,” he recalled.
“You have to be willing to drop your guard and appreciate the fact that these folks are in such admiration of us as law enforcement officers. They love that uniform, and it means so much to them that we’re there.”
It’s those in-the-moment experiences that Frank passes along to other officers who are getting involved with Special Olympics for the first time. But words can never paint the whole picture, Frank said.
“It’s an experience you have to experience,” Frank said. “I can’t really tell you what it’s going to feel like, but you’ll know it as soon as you experience it.” Frank first got involved with Special Olympics around 2001 while he was a Lieutenant with the Colton Police Department.
Jeanette Skinner, a Colton resident and mother of 2015 Special Olympics World Games athlete Kenneth Skinner, called the police department and wondered why it was not involved with the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR). The Torch Run was involved in neighboring cities, but the “Flame of Hope” torch never ran through Colton. While Frank had heard about the Torch Run, it was usually after the fact through newspaper articles.
“So, I told her I’d be very interested in getting a team together, but I didn’t know how to go about it,” Frank said.
Jeanette connected Frank with a California Highway Patrol officer, who served as the Torch Run coordinator in their area at the time, and the partnership blossomed.
When Frank became the Chief of the Beaumont Police Department in 2006, he made it a point to remain involved and brought the Torch Run to his new location.
Frank helped develop the Central Riverside Torch Run, with the route stretching from Beaumont to Hemet. In the process, the Hemet Police Department became another helping hand to the cause through Frank’s connections.
That was just the beginning. Frank joined the LETR Council to help coordinate fundraising and awareness efforts throughout Southern California. In 2010, he joined Special Olympics Southern California’s Board of Directors.
“During my time I’ve been involved with the Torch Run, my family also became very involved with Special Olympics,” Frank said.
Frank’s wife joined the San Bernardino/Inland Empire Regional Council, while their daughter connected with a number of athletes in a non-Special Olympics event through a volunteer program at the University of Redlands. Frank, who is now retired, agreed to become the chair of the Regional Leadership Committee in the Inland Empire Region.
“What I appreciate most about [Special Olympics] is that it’s more than just athletics,” Frank said. “Standing up with a Global Messenger and watching them share their experiences in front of sometimes more than a hundred people is just such an amazing accomplishment for them.
“When I tell people about Special Olympics, I tell them, ‘That’s what Special Olympics is about.’ It’s about developing the confidence and the courage in people with intellectual disabilities that allow them to do things beyond what people think they’re capable of doing.”