Local police officers 'ride for those who died' Annual Police Unity Tour to DC underway
Sparta Police Sgt. Rob Fraser in cycling uniform with Sparta Police Chief Neil Spidaletto
By Mandy Coriston and Joe Picard SUSSEX COUNTY — Police officers from departments throughout the area are taking part in the 22nd annual Police Unity Tour, having kicked up their bicycle stands Wednesday, and are currently pedaling 200 plus miles to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington DC. “I am excited and anxious to embark on my first Police Unity Tour,” Sgt. Rob Fraser of the Sparta police said earlier this week. “I have been able to do a fair amount of training rides this past month throughout Sussex and Morris Counties. I hope and believe that I am ready.” Andover Township Police Patrolman Rick Then is also a first-timer on the tour. “This is my first chance to do this, and I want to do it every year until I retire,” Then said, at a send-off dinner at Homer’s Restaurant Tuesday night for officers from the Andover Township and Newton forces who are now en route. The annual event began in 1997, when 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. 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 Montuore on that initial four-day ride. They raised $18,000. In 1998, 37 riders made the trip and raised $50,000. The effort has 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. “We’ll start tomorrow with 700 to 800 people, then be joined by groups from New York City, South Jersey and so on,” said retired Newton Police Officer Don Donofrio on Tuesday, making his fifth Unity ride this year. “We’ll reach about 2,200 riders, support people, and motorcycle cops by the time we stage at RFK Stadium to make the final push.” All the monies raised go to the memorial fund that serves the needs of the surviving families and to maintenance of the memorial itself. The tour's motto is: We ride for those who died. Then and fellow Andover Township Police Officer Alex Price, also making his first trip, are riding in memory of Andover Patrolman William Bosworth, who was killed in the line of duty in August of 1997. Ptl. Then will also be honoring the life of Dallas Police Officer Lisa Sandel, who lost her life in action on January 13, 1989, and Price is also commemorating Master Sgt. Carl T. Cooper Jr,, a Barry Co., Missouri officer who was tragically killed in a collision with a bus while responding to a call on April 7, 2017. “I’ve been in contact with his wife on Facebook,” Price said, “and she is going to be meeting me at the memorial. I know it’s going to be very emotional.” Newton Police Department Sergeant Mike Monaco will be taking part in his sixth Unity Tour, riding in memory of Newton’s first police chief, John Kinney, who died in the line of duty on November 29, 1934. Donofrio is riding in memory of an agent with the Puerto Rico Police Department, Benjamin A. De Los Santos Barbosa, whose line of duty death occurred in April of last year, as the result of a vehicle pursuit. Donofrio’s wife, Laura Donofrio, who is not an officer but on her fourth Unity Tour, is riding as a surviving family member, honoring the memory of her grandfather who died in the line of duty in 1957, as a member of the Teaneck Police Department. Laura’s family found their way to the Police Unity Tour through the outreach of C.O.P.S. (Concerns of Police Survivors), a group which provides support and programs to families of officers lost in the line of duty. Laura’s grandfather’s name was added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial in 2012. “I have chosen to ride in honor of Patrolman Anthony J. Garaffa from the Irvington Police Department,” Sparta PD’s Fraser said. “Patrolman Garaffa was killed in the line of duty on August 9, 1984. He left behind his wife and 2 year old daughter. In 2011, I met his daughter. She was my daughter's pre-school teacher. As soon as I decided to ride in the Police Unity Tour, I thought of her and her Dad. Patrolman Garaffa's daughter gave me her blessing.” Fraser has another long-term connection to the tour. “In 1998, I was at the police academy and Pat Montuore was a guest speaker,” he said. “He spoke about what he was doing. I thought back then that I wanted to do that ride. Now, 20 years later, I am finally doing it.” Each participant pays $2,000 to take the ride. Uniforms for the ride are standard and each rider must pay for theirs, as well as the bicycle and any other equipment needed. Riders said individual costs could run as high as $5,000. Therefore, prior to the tour, each participant became a fundraiser for the cause, soliciting contributions, selling tee shirts and getting friends to hold fundraising events. All of the cyclists have also been practicing on their own time for months to get in condition for the long ride. They were ready, and thankful to their departments, their many donors and supporters among area businesses and citizens, and especially their family members. “My wife Heather, and our four kids — Sydney, Owen, Cole and Calvin — without their support, this ride would not be possible,” Fraser said, expressing the kind of gratitude his fellow cyclists were feeling and saying. And Sparta Police Chief Neil Spidaletto echoed the sentiments of officers throughout the county and the country: ."We are proud to have Sgt. Fraser representing the Sparta Police Department for this very important cause and recognition for those officers that have made the ultimate sacrifice to their communities around the nation,” Spidaletto said. "This is all about honoring the fallen officers," said Officer Nick Snook of the West Milford Police Department, now on his third ride. "There's the hurt and soreness of the ride, and you rise above that when you think of the fallen officers and you see the families at the memorial." “You are riding for fallen officers and their surviving families,” fellow 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.” The Police Unity Tour raises money for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. For more information on the ride and the fund, visit their website www.policeunitytour.com.