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Show of Force for Show of Strength : Police Games: San Gabriel Valley is center of weeklong competition that involves 6,000 law enforcement officers participating in 48 sports.


CITY OF INDUSTRY — Derek Edwards was only looking for a good game, not necessarily a rewarding career, when he played pickup basketball with some friends in San Jose in 1980.

The group consisted of several former high school basketball players such as Edwards and included the assistant chief of a local law enforcement agency.

"I became good friends with the guy, and I was interested in law enforcement," said Edwards, who graduated from Westchester High in 1975. "He talked me into getting into it. Now I work homicide."

Earlier this week, Edwards was patrolling the key at Cal Poly Pomona for the San Jose Police Department basketball team.

Edwards is one of the more than 6,000 peace officers and law enforcement officials participating in the 27th annual California Police Summer Games.

The L.A. County Sheriff's Department is host for the event, which includes individual and team competition in 48 sports. The games are being staged through Saturday at sites throughout Southern California, the majority of which are in the San Gabriel Valley.

Organizers say the games are second only to the Olympics in terms of the number of participants. Competitors are drawn from nearly every law enforcement agency in the state.

"The games give law enforcement people a respite from their daily responsibilities and encourages them to stay in shape," said Mike Graham of the Sheriff's Department, who is serving as the event manager. "Most municipalities cannot afford individual programs to keep their people in shape, so we see this as an opportunity to do that.

"No one likes to see a fat cop."

The games were started in 1967 in San Diego with about 12 events. Sports have since been added by request and others have been deleted because of lack of participation.

The games are staged in a different area of California each year. San Diego was host for the event last year and Sacramento will be the site in 1994.

This year, about 1,000 volunteers are involved in organizing and running the games, which are headquartered at the Industry Hills Sheraton.

"Most of the competitors bring about two or three people with them, so it's like a convention of about 20,000," Graham said.

The convention-like atmosphere draws many of the same competitors year after year. Most use vacation time or trade shifts with other officers so they can compete.

Mike Claus, 31, is competing in his fifth games. Claus, who works for the L.A. County Sheriff's special enforcement bureau, is participating in volleyball and softball.

"It's good to compete against everyone else and see the people you haven't seen in a year," Claus said. "The competition gets pretty intense as you get to the final rounds."

John Molitoris, 49, who works for the California Highway Patrol in Bakersfield, is competing in soccer. The games offer three divisions in that sport.

"My oldest daughter started playing soccer when she was 6, so I started helping with her teams," Molitoris said. "Next thing I knew, I was refereeing and playing myself.

"I keep coming back to play because of the competition."

Sal Saiz of Long Beach has been competing in the games since 1972. Although his Sheriff's Department soccer team lost to the Bakersfield CHP, 2-0, in a first-round game of round-robin play, Saiz said the rivalries are left on the field.

"No one has problems with each other," Saiz said. "Whatever bad glances there are during the games, we always come back as friends."

Sonja Zamaitat of the Orange County Sheriff's Department volleyball team is competing in her first games. Although she had no interscholastic experience in the sport, she practiced with teammates for five months in preparation for the event.

"It's been a lot of fun, getting together with other people from cities outside of Southern California," Zamaitat said. "It's nice to play with and against so many different people who have something in common."

Graham, the event manager, said there is no overall medal count to determine the most dominant agency at the games, but "you can be sure that the LAPD and the Sheriff's keep a very close count of what the other has won."

Edwards, making his 12th appearance for the San Jose basketball team, said winning is only a sidelight of the games experience.

"It's highly competitive, but it's really just a good chance to have some camaraderie and good times," he said. "I'm down here visiting my family and just enjoying life."

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