WEST ORANGE, NJ — Members of the West Orange Police Department (WOPD) continue to do their part to honor lives lost in the line of duty by participating in the 2019 Police Unity Tour, an annual four-day biking event in May that departs from New Jersey and ends in Washington, D.C.
Started in May 1997 by former Florham Park Chief of Police Patrick “Pat” Montuore, the Police Unity Tour serves to raise awareness about law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty and to honor their sacrifices. It began with only 18 members who, according to Sgt. Pat Matullo of the West WOPD, each raised about $1,050 per person while riding bicycles from Florham Park to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Today, the Police Unity Tour is a “motorcycle-escorted run,” according to Matullo, with 200 motorcycles accompanying approximately 1,500 bicycles over the course of four days.
Every year, members of the Police Unity Tour—which currently consists of nine chapters of nearly 2,500 members from all over New Jersey as well as New York, Delaware, Florida, California, Las Vegas and international supporters from Israel, Australia and other countries—meet in New Jersey and stay in hotels before making the four-day journey.
The tour departs from both Florham Park and East Hanover on May 9, then proceeds to Somerset, followed by Wilmington, Del. and Annapolis, Md. before reaching Washington, D.C. on May 12. A candlelit vigil is held on May 13, the night before the last day of the tour, in order to honor those in law enforcement who have died in the line of duty.
The secondary purpose of the tour is to raise money for the of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which supports the maintenance and cleaning of the 18,983 names engraved on the memorial and the construction of the museum, which Matullo said officially opened in October 2018 “right across from the memorial.”
Matullo, who has been actively participating in the Police Unity Tour for nine years, also said that “approximately 3,000 police officers or family members of police officers who were killed in the line of duty” will participate in the tour this year.
Some West Orange businesses are doing what they can to support the WOPD and the cause of the Police Unity Tour. The Oak Barrel Pub, for instance, intends to donate 15 percent of all proceeds raised during a fundraiser on Friday toward the WOPD Unity Tour campaign, according to owner Chris O’Connell.
Since the WOPD always has an active presence in the community, ensuring the wellbeing and protection of not only the residents but also local business owners, O’Connell said he wants to make sure to give back as much as he can to the police department.
By inviting both active and retired police officers as well as with friends and family to come out and enjoy a night of food and good company, O’Connell said the fundraiser “gets the community together.”
He added that it also provides an opportunity for police officers who are affiliated with the tour in both West Orange and surrounding communities to “come in and bring their families, so that their families can feel a part of the community as well.” This translates to a “friendly atmosphere” where “everybody knows everybody” and “it makes people feel comfortable that [the police] are not only here to protect us, [but] they are also here to be a member of our community as well,” he said.