SOMERVILLE, NJ – A pack of Somerville police officers and civilian police dispatchers took off from their staging point in front of the Van Derveer School and ran the Special Olympics Torch of Hope through the downtown shopping and restaurant district Friday afternoon.

The torch had been passed by a group of Bridgewater police and Somerset County Sheriff’s Officers and after its escort through Somerville, was passed off to a group of Hillsborough police officers waiting at the Duke Parkway East exit off Route 206.

Hundreds of law enforcement officers from Somerset County participated in the 36th annual event event to commemorate this weekend’s New Jersey Special Olympics Summer Games held at the College of New Jersey in Ewing Township.

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Thousands of police officers and law enforcement personnel  participated statewide in yesterday’s torch run.

The torch that passed its way through Bridgewater, Somerville and Hillsborough began its journey early Friday in northern New Jersey with the New York/New Jersey Port Authority Police, Elizabeth Police and US Customs Officers, working its way south on several legs carried by officers from Roselle, Roselle Park, Cranford, Garwood, Westfield, Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Plainfield, Dunellen, Middlesex, and Bound Brook.

Somerville Police, County Sheriff Office and State Police cars escorted the pack of runners down Route 28, onto Gaston Avenue and down Main Street past the Somerset County Administration Building, down Main Street, continuing their trek on to Route 206 south, veering off on the Dukes Parkway East exit where they met the Hillsborough Police contingent.

State Police cruisers and Hillsborough Police cars escorted the Hillsborough Police runners along Route 206 until the team, led by Chief Darren Powell,  passed off to Montgomery Police.

More than 3,000 law enforcement officers throughout New Jersey shucked their uniforms and business suits for running shorts, t-shirts and sneakers to participate in the 36th annual Torch Run. A total of 26 legs will be run throughout New Jersey Friday, totaling 750 miles.

“Law enforcement officers pledge to serve and uphold the members of their community, so we feel it is our duty to serve the Special Olympics athletes of New Jersey,” said Chief Robert Belfiore, retired Deputy Chief of the Port Authority of NY/NJ and director of the New Jersey Torch Run.

“As a member of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, I always feel privileged to carry the torch,” he added. “This is our chance to become a champion for the cause, to show the members of our communities how talented our local Special Olympics athletes are.”

Each year the “Flame of Hope” run raises over $3 million for New Jersey Special Olympics.