By Karen Zautyk
In 1997, the first Police Unity Tour, a grueling fourday, 300-mile bike ride to Washington, D.C., was launched, with 18 cyclists making the journey and raising $18,000 for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Earlier this month, 1,400 officers, representing police departments nationwide, took part in the tour, which this year raised, at latest count, $1.5 million.
Among the 2011 Unity Tour cyclists were four members of the Kearny Police Department: Officers Paul Bershefski, John Fabula, Dave Rakowski and Wayne Shivers. Through donations and events they helped organize, the four raised $7,000
for the fund, which benefits the police memorial and museum in the nation’s capital as well as the families of fallen officers.
But according to tour organizers, raising money is its secondary purpose. The primary aim is raising something else: awareness of those law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty. “We Ride for Those Who Died” is its motto.
The national memorial is inscribed with the names of some 19,000 of those men and women — and, tragically, more are added each year. “We had a 38% increase in line-of-duty deaths last year as compared to the year before,” Kearny Police Chief John Dowie noted.
Kearny is fortunate. It has only two names on the wall: Officers William Flack and Fabian Eklof. Flack, who was 30 years old, was killed in an on-duty motorcycle accident on Harrison Ave. on Nov. 1, 1928.
Eklof died in a Kearny Ave. auto accident Dec. 29, 1930. He reportedly had been, as was standard practice back then, riding on the running board of a patrol car when the crash occurred. Eklof was 57 years old and carried KPD Badge No. 1.
In a report to his chief about the May 9-12 journey, KPD Sgt. Anthony Limite commended Bershefski, Fabula, Rakowski and Shivers.
“Their commitment and training for the long ride paid off by numerous compliments by other riders on the tour from around the country about how the ‘Kearny guys‘ could ride!”
“This was most evident when, during uphill legs of the ride, where most others struggled, our Kearny guys stood up from their seats and bolted by all to the front of the long line of riders, either to inspire or show how guys from Kearny ride!”
Also traveling to Washington (though not by bicycle) were members of the Kearny Police Honor Guard — Officers Adriano Marques, Angelo Palagano and Patrick Walsh — who participated in a candlelight vigil at the memorial the night of May 13.
In addition, the Honor Guard members were chosen to escort to the vigil the family members and other loved ones of those police officers killed during 2010.
Of the cyclists and the Honor Guard, Limite wrote: “Everyone did an outstanding job as usual and brought great credit upon the Kearny Police Department in a national spotlight.”
More information on the Police Unity Tour, including a photo gallery of the ride and the stories of the fallen officers whose names are on the memorial, can be found at www.policeunitytour.com.
There, you can also learn some history of the project, including the fact that the original tour, back in ’97, was organized by a New Jersey policeman, Officer Patrick Montuore of the Florham Park PD.