Police Chief Riding to Remember the Fallen

Ridgewood chief John Ward participating in 2012 Police Unity Tour, riding his bike 300 miles with police officers to honor those killed in the line of duty.

Standing next to his bicycle, with hundreds of his brethren beside him, Ridgewood Police Chief John Ward cried.

A young girl was running her finger through an etching on the wall – a name, her father's.

"She put her hand on it and said, 'Daddy, you're in a better place,'" Ward recalls. "I was in tears."

On May 9, the police chief leaves behind the bulletproof vest and paperwork to embark on a 300-mile bicycle trek from Florham Park, NJ to Washington D.C. for the 16th annual Police Unity Tour.

Over 1,400 officers rode last year, raising $1.5 million to maintain the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and museum to honor those who gave their lives while on the clock. Over 19,000 names are on the wall. Nine alone have died in the last month.

For Ward, on his third Unity trip, it's personal.

"I've lost a few friends over the years in the line of duty," he says.

Paramus Officer Vinny Brock was 39 years old when his patrol car slammed into a utility pole on Route 4 in November of 1993. He had responded to a false bomb threat. He left behind two children and a wife.

John Skala, of Clifton, and Robert Cirri, of Nutley, were Port Authority police officers and paramedics with Ward. Each was killed in the 9/11 attacks attempting to save victims trapped in the towers.

The attacks claimed the lives of 37 PAPD members. Cirri left behind a wife and six children, Skala a mother and two siblings.

Mary Ann Collura spent 18 years on the Fair Lawn Police Department and made history as the first female officer on the force. On April 17, 2003 she had tackled a suspect and was fatally shot four times, reaching for her mace. Collura is survived by her mother and three siblings.

"Every day men and women cross the country put their lives on the line and some give the ultimate sacrifice," the police chief says solemnly. "It's not just those officers who make that sacrifice, it's their families. Each year we ride and visit families of officers killed in the line of duty and show we still remember, we still honor their sacrifice."

Ward is taking the 'Challenge Ride' this year, known for its grueling hills. He'll be joined by his son Ryan, a police officer in Bogota, and Ryan's superior, Bogota Police Chief John Burke.

International participants and riders from across the country will also be heading down to D.C. Several rides from different states come together at the end of the four-day ride. Police cruise into the nation's capital two-by-two. 

Bracelets are carried down with the names of officers who will be added to the wall this year. Unfortunately, the rate of officers killed in the line of duty is on the rise.

Shifting his eyes from the bicycle laying in the corner of his office and photos of his past Unity Tours on his computer screen, he clears his throat. 

"In honor there is hope," Ward recites.


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