Police officers preparing to cycle for the fallen

Local team to join 2018 Police Unity Tour to D.C.

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  • Four members of Team West Milford at the Mohawk House, seated from left; West Milford P.O. Rob Kulawiak, Sparta Police Sgt. Rob Fraser, Jefferson Township P.O. Dan Florio; standing, West Milford P.O. Anthony Frassa

  • From left, West Milford Officers Rob Kulawiak and Anthony Frassa, Jefferson P.O. Dan Florio, Mohawk House owner Steve Scro and Sparta Police Sgt. Rob Fraser

By Joseph Picard

— In 1997, Officer Patrick Montuore of the Florham Park Police Department organized a bicycle ride from his New Jersey town to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Judiciary Square in Washington D.C., pedaling over 200 miles The purpose of the journey was to raise public awareness of officers who have died in the line of duty and to raise money for the surviving families of the fallen. Seventeen other officers joined Monturoe on that initial four-day ride. They raised $18,000.

In 1998, 37 riders made the trip and raised $50,000. The effort had grown each year since. In 2006, with 978 riders, the fundraising surpassed $1 million. Last year’s Police Unity Tour had 2,500 riders, from departments nationwide. They raised $2.6 million.

All the monies raised go to the memorial fund that serves the needs of the surviving families and to maintainance of the memorial itself.

“In 1998, I was at the police academy and Pat Montuore was a guest speaker. He spoke about what he was doing,” said Sgt. Rob Fraser of the Sparta police. “I thought back then that I wanted to do that ride. Now, 20 years later, I am finally doing it.”

Fraser is going to represent Sparta in this year’s ride, which will kick off on May 9. He is part of Team West Milford. Seven officers from West Milford’s police department, and three from the Jefferson police, make up the rest of the team.

“You are riding for fallen officers and their surviving families,” West Milford P.O. Rob Kulawiak said “We’re cops. We go to work each day, leave our families, and don’t know if we will make it home that day. These fallen officers, they are just like us, only they did not make it back to their families. We’re riding to show our respect.”

Fellow West Milford Police Officer Anthony Frassa echoed Kulawiak’s sentiment, and added, “The purpose of the ride is to bring knowledge to the public of how many police officers have been killed in the line of duty.”

“The camaraderie and the shared sacrifice of 2,500 cops, Type A personalities putting all the small stuff aside and coming together for a worthy cause – that’s impressive,” said Officer Dan Florio of the Jefferson Township Police Department.

Florio, like Fraser, is joining the ride for the first time. Kulawiak and Frassa have each done it several times.

“What advice would I give to newcomers?” Kulawiak laughed. “Padded bike shorts! It’s a long ride and it’s all about saddle time.”

Although the trip is grueling and the rider must be fit, the experience is also rewarding, Kulawiak said.

“We move through some beautiful countryside, and you get into it and you see all these other officers biking beside you. It’s a great feeling,” he said.

Frassa said that there are almost as many women officers riding as there are men. Woman or man, each rider is doing it on their own.

“We raise all the money ourselves,” Fraser said. “We’re responsible for our own equipment and we’re on our own time, training when we can, and arranging to use days off and vacation time for the ride.”

Each participant pays $2,000 to take the ride. Uniforms for the ride are standard and each rider must pay for it, as well as the bicycle and any other equipment needed.

“It could run up as high as $5,000,” Frassa said.

Every rider is a fundraiser for the cause, soliciting contributions, selling tee shirts and getting friends to hold fundraising events.

One such event is slated for the Mohawk House in Sparta on Feb. 1, starting at 6 p.m.

“Mohawk House is a hub for law enforcement and the community,” said Steve Scro, owner of the restaurant. “I love bringing law enforcement officers and community members together. This is a national event, and we’re doing our part on a local level, supporting the effort.”

Scro added that it is better for everyone in the community when police officers from various departments bond on a personal basis.

Police officers from departments as far off as California travel to the East Coast and join the ride along the way. Indeed, groups of cyclists converge en route. Team West Milford, as well as other teams, will start off in Somerset on May 9, bike through the western part of New Jersey that day and reach Philadelphia on the first night. The next day’s journey will take the cyclists through Delaware and into Maryland, making Baltimore on the second night. The last leg is to just outside D.C. and then the full troop of cyclists enter the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial on Saturday, May 12. On the following day, there is a candlelight vigil and new names are added to the memorial.

Kulawiak reflected: “When you are at the memorial and you see the family members of the fallen officers — that’s the rough part.”

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