PITTSFIELD -- A few hundred "suspects" will be on the loose in downtown Pittsfield on Saturday night, running from the police and racing for a cause.
The second annual "Run From the Cops," a midnight 5K and themed fun race is one of three special events held by police each year to raise money for Berkshire County-area Special Olympics participants and events.
For participants' safety, the Pittsfield Police Department, starting at 10 p.m., will close down a portion of North Street, from Columbus Avenue to Park Square, and all of Depot Street. Businesses and parking will be accessible from McKay Street. Portions of downtown roads along the course will be temporarily closed as runners pass through the designated course areas and obstacles.
Pittsfield Officer Darren Derby, who co-coordinates the event with Investigator John Bassi, said that more than 300 runners are expected to participate in the race. Registration and check-in begins at 10 p.m. Coffee and doughnuts from the Donut Man will be available. The race will start at midnight at the Berkshire Running Center at 42 Summer St., and last approximately 45 minutes to an hour.
In addition to this race, Derby and Bassi also coordinate the annual "Cop on Top" event at the Pittsfield Walmart store and the Polar Plunge at Onota Lake. All three events are associated with the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) for Special Olympics, an international grassroots vehicle to raise awareness and funds for youths and adults with intellectual disabilities wishing to participate in athletic events.
"About five years ago, Chief [Michael] Wynn approached John Bassi -- whose son has autism -- about LETR and how they were looking for a liaison in Berkshire County," Derby said. "So we started with our first event ‘Cop on Top.' Our first year, we had a goal of raising $5,000 and we raised about $30,000. It's been amazing to do these events."
Each year, the two men participated in an international LETR conference and get ideas about engaging the community through various events to help raise funds.
Derby said the first Run from the Cops in Berkshire County was held last summer in Williamstown. He said the event attracted 330 runners and raised about $10,500 for Special Olympics.
He said the need for more space to handle the volume of racers and spectators led them to move the event to Pittsfield this year, and also to take the event "to the next level."
As with last year, the "suspects" are invited to dress the part for the race.
"Last year when had a guy dressed at the [McDonald's] Hamburglar, jailbirds, we had a correctional officer running in shackles. People got very creative," Derby said.
New this year will be several "gauntlet" style obstacles sponsored by various Berkshire organizations and businesses. Berkshire Fence Co. will have a fence course; D Condron Construction will make an obstacle with drain pipes; Walmart will host a "Black Friday" course challenge; the city of Pittsfield is sponsoring a sand trap feature; cast members and friends of Berkshire Theatre Group's production of "Seussical" will pit its Dr. Seuss-inspired characters against racers; City Tire will make an obstacle and The Party Barn will transform the parking deck of the McKay Street parking garage into challenge.
"I think we may have the only parking deck 5K going," Derby joked.
The officer said about a dozen Pittsfield Police officers will run in the race. Members of 11 other county police departments also will participate by either having officers compete or volunteer to help keep things running smoothly along the course. Street lamps and parking deck fixtures will light the majority of the course, and additional lighting will be brought in if necessary.
"This is a safe event," Derby said. "Everyone has a racing bib, and if you're seriously up to no good, you're going to stick out."
In addition to the competitive but unofficially timed 5K race, there will also be a 1.5-mile fun walk for those who want to help raise funds. Spectators are welcome.
Derby said he's looking forward to seeing a good crowd rally around a good cause. Cash prizes will be given to the top male and female finishers.
"I think a lot of people are now aware of disabilities like autism and Down syndrome and know people or families affected by it. I think these days people want to get involved in a way to donate, and we're bringing in fun ways to help," he said.
If you go ...
What: Run from the Cops 5K benefit for the Special Olympics
Where: Downtown Pittsfield
When: Midnight Saturday
Registration: During business hours at the Berkshire Running Center; until 6 p.m. on Friday or between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday; from 10 to 11:30 p.m. before the race.
Cost: $20 in advance; $25 on race day. Registration form can be found online here: http://goo.gl/UWOuXV.
Live blog: To follow and share your race photos via Twitter to The Berkshire Eagle live blog, use the hashtag: #runfromthecops
The race will start and finish at the Berkshire Running Center (at Berkshire Nautilus), 42 Summer St., Pittsfield.
First loop: Will move from Summer Street to North Street to West Housatonic Street to Center Street to Depot Street and back to North Street.
Second loop: Will move south on North Street to West Street, into the McKay Street Parking garage then back down, then up Depot Street, north on North Street, with a finish on Summer Street.