Pleasantville police Capt. Scott Seliga loved the idea of cops and doughnut shops forming a partnership to benefit the Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial in Washington D.C.
So he called Arun Mandi, owner of 24 Dunkin' Donut locations in South Jersey, and asked him to sponsor Team Pleasantville for the 250-mile bicycling event in May called the Police Unity Tour, to raise awareness and money for the memorial.
"He didn't hesitate. He jumped right on it," said Seliga, 45, of Galloway Township.
"I could see the need," said Mandi. He said Dunkin' Donuts has a community foundation, but he is acting independently with the sponsorship.
As a primary sponsor, Mandi's company is donating $4,500 - that's $500 per team member for the nine-member team, which will ride from Howell Township in Monmouth County to Washington, D.C. from May 9 to May 12. Team members must raise $2,000 per person. They are still seeking additional sponsors.
Officer Terry Tully, 49, of Galloway, drives Team Pleasantville's support vehicle. She first participated in 2006 in memory of Atlantic City Officer Thomas McMeekin Jr., 28, a friend who was struck by a bus and killed in 2005 while directing traffic at an accident scene.
McMeekin's death also inspired Officer Dave Aristizabal, 32, of Galloway, to join the ride in 2006. This will be his sixth time participating, and he is Team Pleasantville's team leader. In the past, Pleasantville didn't have its own team, but a few officers would join in with other groups. So Aristizabal sent an email to all members of the police force, and got enough interest to start Team Pleasantville, he said.
The riders, who are already quite fit, still must train for the endurance bike ride. They will cover as far as 82 miles a day, for four days straight.
Even though Officer Stacey Williams is a spin instructor at a private gym, and a physical training instructor at the police academy, she still has to get used to endurance road riding, she said. Like most of the team, it's her first year doing the ride.
"Thirty miles is the longest ride I've done so far for training," said Williams, 36, of Hamilton Township.
The officers are training, and will participate in the ride, on their own time.
Officer Vaughn Howze, 41, of Egg Harbor Township is riding for the third time this year. He said he does Crossfit training, running, weight training and spin classes on a regular basis.
"I can't say I'm a biker. It's not a love, it's a like," he said. "But now, every weekend I'm out biking."
Howze said the group will ride 20 to 30 miles at a time, then stop at different locations to honor officers who have died. The group will have 20 police escorts on motorcyles, Aristizabal said. The escorts will stop traffic at intersections, he said.
The Police Unity Tour is an annual event started in 1997 by a northern New Jersey policeman, to raise awareness of police officers killed in the line of duty. It also raises money for the National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial and Museum in the nation's capital, Seliga said.
"Each year they add the names of those who have died," Seliga said. In 2011 there were 177 officers killed nationwide, he said.
The museum, set to open in 2013, recently announced it hired former journalist Joe Urschel as executive director. Urschel directed the news industry museum, The Newseum, from its opening in Arlington, Va., in 1996 to 2009. He oversaw its move in 2008 to Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
The first year of the tour, 18 riders made the trip from Florham Park in northern New Jersey to the memorial in D.C., and raised $18,000. Last May 1,400 members from chapters nationwide made the trip, and raised $1.5 million. Since 1997 the tour has raised almost $10 million, of which $5 million has gone toward the museum.
Police departments in Atlantic, Cape May, and southern Ocean counties are participating, according to the South Jersey tour web site at www.policeunitytourchap2.com/. In addition to Pleasantville, they include police departments from Atlantic City, Brigantine, Galloway Township, Linwood, and Stockton College in Atlantic County; from Avalon, Lower Township, Middle Township, North Wildwood, Sea Isle City, Stone Harbor and Wildwood in Cape May County; and from Little Egg Harbor, Ocean Township, Ship Bottom and Stafford Township in southern Ocean County. In addition, federal, state and county law enforcement organizations are involved.
Team members will join about 150 other officers from all over southern and central New Jersey, to bike from Howell Township, Monmouth County to the Clarion Hotel on the Black Horse Pike in Egg Harbor Township on May 9. The next day the group will ride from the Clarion to Atlantic City and down the barrier islands, to the Cape May Lewis Ferry. They will spend the night of May 10 in Lewes, Del.
On May 11 they will ride to Annapolis, Md., where they will meet up with the group from northern New Jersey. The entire state contingent will ride together May 12 into Washington, D.C. On May 13 all riders will converge at the memorial, for a full dress uniform ceremony.
Aristizabal said officers from all over the U.S. and even from Europe participate. Riding with the South Jersey group this year will be riders from as far away as Hampton, N.H., and Portland, Me., police departments.
The ceremony is a powerful experience, said Tully. "As tough as you think you are, you look at the names on the wall (and feel the emotion)," Tully said. When the families of the fallen come in, "It can be very, very difficult," she said.
Contact Seliga to donate to the team at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 609-641-6100. Or call your local police station to find out how to donate to officers from your town who may be participating.
For more on the Police Unity Tour, visit: www.policeunitytour.com/.
For the Southern New Jersey Chapter of the Police Unity Tour, visit: www.policeunitytourchap2.com/.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is located on E Street, between Fourth and Fifth Streets, NW, in Washington, DC., directly above the Judiciary Square Metro Station. Its web site is at www.nleomf.org/.
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