MILLTOWN, NJ - On May 9, five members of the Milltown Police Department will embark on a bicycle journey to Washington D.C. However, the ride is a lot more than a scenic bike tour. Sergeant Chris Witt, Patrolman Armando Rosario, Patrolman Michael Dinis, Dispatcher Thomas Hammel and Dispatcher Richard Moore will be riding in the 20th Police Unity Tour.

In May of 1997, the inaugural Police Unity Tour was started by Officer Patrick P. Montoure of the Florham Park Police Department. Montoure’s hope was to bring attention to the police officers who had lost their lives in the line of duty and to recognize as well as honor their sacrifices.

The message behind the upcoming Police Unity Tour is one that is dear to the hearts of the Milltown officers and dispatchers who will be undertaking the long physical journey on Monday.

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“We ride for those who have died,” Witt said in a recent telephone interview. “It is a great experience and one of the cooler things that I’ve done in a long time.”

Witt explained that prior to the actual unity ride the riders must raise $1800 per person. They reached their goal with various fundraisers throughout the year that included Cigar Night back in April in addition to t-shirt sales and Dine to Donates like the one at the Ice Cream Depot on April 23. The Milltown Police Department has been participating in the Police Unity Tour for the past five years. Officer Sean Holland started the MPD’s participation in 2011.

The money the officers raise on the bike tour goes to the National Law Enforcement’s Memorial Fund. Last year’s ride raised almost two million dollars. Contributions also go towards the construction of the National Law Enforcement Museum in Washington D.C.

“Officers come from all over,” Witt continued. “There are riders from California, Maine and Virginia. This year, spouses and family members that lost loved ones will also be riding.”

There are Police Unity chapters all over the country. Witt, Rosairo, Dinis, Hammel and Moore are all attached to Chapter 10, which encompasses police departments from Central and Southern New Jersey. Since the first Police Unity Tour began in the Garden State, out of state riders join the officers in New Jersey to start the journey.

This year’s journey begins on Monday, May 9 at the Hamilton State Police Barracks in Trenton. A memorial service for officers lost in the line of duty will begin the tour. The riders will then travel to different police departments in New Jersey where officers have been lost throughout the day on Monday. Services will take place at each department involved, with the officers being honored and their accomplishments and sacrifices being recognized for their spouses and family. On Monday, the participants will ride approximately 70 to 80 miles throughout the state before heading south on Tuesday.

On each day of the journey to the nation’s capital, the riders will continue to put the same mileage on their bicycles. Each night they will rest and recharge in hotels along the way until they reach their destination.

“It’s a big undertaking for the Chapter 10 organizers,” Witt explained.

Police motorcycle escorts are arranged as well as support vehicles that assist the riders and perform bike repairs as needed to get the riders back on the road as quickly as possible. The organizers also book the officers’ accommodations.

Montoure’s first Police Unity Tour in 1997 had 18 riders. The scope of the tour and its message has grown by leaps and bounds. Last year’s ride included 1,900 participants.

“It grew legs over the years,” Witt said.

When the riders finally arrive in Washington D.C., there is a large memorial service.

Training throughout the year is of course necessary for the taxing physical ride. Witt enjoys riding and will do so several times a week in preparation. He uses hills to help with stamina.

All five men understand the time commitment involved in the training and the actual Police Unity ride. Since all are family men, the commitment means time away from their loved ones.

However, the sacrifice is a meaningful one. “All of us are on the same team,” Witt said of his fellow police officers throughout the country. “It’s a thankless job sometimes. When my legs hurt on the ride, I think of what some of these guys have gone through and the sacrifices they have made.”

The first known officer who lost his life in the line of duty was in 1791. Sheriff Cornelius Hogeboom was from Hudson, New York. Hogeboom was shot and killed when he was in the process of serving a writ of ejectment.

According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund website, more than 20,000 police officers in the United States alone “have made the ultimate sacrifice.” In 2015, 123 names were added to that ever-growing list of officers.