It all started innocently enough …
For Patrick Montuore of the Florham Park (New Jersey) Police Department, it started with the simple idea of raising awareness of officers who have fallen in the line of duty. Montuore, who started his law enforcement career way back in 1989, retired as the chief of police in that same New Jersey town. Along the way, he was a DARE officer and rode a bike on patrol. He rose through the ranks, promoted to sergeant, lieutenant and deputy chief. He’s even been elected to the local Board of Education for a dozen years.
But he never had an impacting idea quite like the Police Unity Tour, which he founded. It started in 1997, with a tiny band of 18 riders biking from New Jersey to Washington, D.C. That year, they raised $18,000 for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington.
While it started innocently enough, the Unity Tour is now anything but small-time. It has raised nearly $18 million for the cause, and each spring brings riders from across the country together to fund-raise for the memorial and remember their fallen colleagues.
For Taylor’s Officers Steven Schwein, Dave Ziegler (retired and now a Public Safety Officer), Michael Taylor and John Marimpietri, the mission and focus will remain the same as in past years. The foursome, who will be joined by Southgate’s Tom Coombs, will be riding with the Southern California VII Chapter, one of 10 chapters participating in the event.
"Our police department’s involvement in the Unity Tour started in 2011, when two of our detectives learned of the ride and wanted to honor Matt and Dan who had just died a few months earlier," Police Chief Mary Sclabassi said. "It's now become a tradition in the department and each year different officers sign up. People don't realize that for those who were here, the pain felt from the loss of an officer doesn't go away and this is one way to continue to honor them and raise awareness about the loss of officers everywhere."
The Taylor unit will start on May 9 with a 45-mile optional ride that will include stops at New Jersey-area police stations. On May 10, the group will ride from Somerset (N.J.) to Philadelphia, an 85-mile trip. That’s a warm-up, according to Schwein, compared to the May 11 journey from Philly to Baltimore, a grueling 110-mile effort.
“Believe me, there are some nasty hills in that portion of the ride,” Schwein said.
The final day (May 12) will see the group ride 60 miles to complete the approximate 300-mile trip by going from Baltimore into Washington’s Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, where all 10 chapters will meet before traveling to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Once there, the group will remember all of their fallen colleagues, an endless list of names from an endless list of areas in the country.
The Downriver group, no doubt, will be thinking about two specific former colleagues: Matthew Edwards and Dan Kromer. The City of Taylor had never suffered through losing a law enforcement officer in its long history, before losing two members in the space of 46 days in 2010. In fact, as the group rides through the tour, they will take turns wearing the badges of their fallen colleagues.
Officer Edwards, just 31, was killed during a 6 a.m. confrontation with an angry man at an apartment complex. He had been with the department since 2005, was named Officer of the Year by the Police Officers Association of Michigan in 2008 and left a wife and two children.
Lt. Kromer, 54, a 20-year veteran volunteer with the Taylor Auxiliary Police, was struck by a vehicle and killed while assisting a motorist on westbound I-94 near Monroe on September 7, 2010.
"The Tour is a way of reflecting on the sacrifices made by Matt and Dan as well as all fallen officers,” Schwein said. “It gives us a way of continuing to memorialize them.
The Unity Tour effort is only one of many efforts to memorialize Officer Edwards and Lt. Kromer. On Thursday May 5, the Taylor Police Department will hold its Fourth Annual Never Forgotten Candlelight Vigil in the Cameron Priebe Plaza outside the police department. The second annual Matthew Edwards Foundation Legacy 5K Run & Walk is scheduled for July 22 in Heritage Park.
At 7 p.m. on Monday (May 9), the Auxiliary Building directly behind the City Hall Municipal Offices will be officially dedicated the “Lt. Dan Kromer Police Education Center.” Later this spring, intersections along Telegraph Road in the City will be adorned with special banners dedicated to Officer Edwards.
“Putting these types of issues into words is never easy, but ‘remembering’ is very important,” Mayor Rick Sollars said. “Law enforcement officers across the country have made great sacrifices so that we can live our lives safely. Many – like Matthew and Dan – gave their lives. They are an important part of our history, and they will never be forgotten.”
Local participation in the 2016 Police Unity Tour would not have been possible without support throughout the community. There is a mandatory $1,850 pledge per rider. Schwein thanked the following groups for their support: MASCO Corporation (sixth straight year); Roll Model Bicycles (of Allen Park, a supporter every year since 2011); Pia’s Restaurant (multiple-year donor); SaveLand SuperMarket; Taylor Chrysler (multiple-year donor); Expert Heating and Cooling; Metro Cars; Bianco Tours and Transportation; Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 123 (multiple-year donor); Fraternal Order of Police Associate Lodge 123 (multiple-year donor); Police Officers Association of Michigan (multiple-year donor); Taylor Police Officers Labor Association (multiple-year donor; Taylor Public Service Officers Labor Association (multiple-year donor); Flowers on the Avenue of Allen Park (multiple-year donor); Valero Gas (Telegraph Road location); Exxon Mobil Gas (Eureka/Telegraph); and Mobil Gas (Wick/Pelham). Past donors include Fritz Enterprises, Arrow Uniform, Watson Engineering, Penzoil (Telegraph Road) and Wallside Windows.