|On Tour: Law Enforcement Personnel Cycle to Washington, D.C.|
|By Matt Schuman, New Jersey Department of Corrections|
The primary purpose of the Police Unity Tour is to raise awareness of law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.
For Correctional Police Sergeant Anna Miglio of Bayside State Prison, who recently took part in the 300-mile bicycle ride to Washington, D.C., for the fifth time, it’s personal. Her father, Eugene Miglio III, a member of the Wildwood Crest Police Department, lost his life while on the job in 1995.
“My participation in the Police Unity Tour is a huge source of pride,” Miglio said. “It’s an amazing experience. Even when the weather is less than ideal, there’s a positive energy that keeps everybody going. Everybody realizes that we’re riding in honor of people who aren’t with us anymore.”
Miglio and more than a dozen others represented the New Jersey Department of Corrections on this year’s tour, a four-day trek that culminated on May 12 at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in the nation’s capital.
Thousands of riders and support personnel from across the United States and beyond, as well as family members of fallen officers, came together for the emotional gathering at the memorial.
On May 7, just a few days before the tour began, members of the NJDOC contingent were recognized during a ceremony held on the grounds of the Department’s Central Office headquarters.
“The support the Department has shown us is gratifying,” Miglio said during the Central Office gathering. “It makes all of us proud to be part of the Department of Corrections.”
Correctional Police Lieutenant James Russo of Northern State Prison, a first-time participant on the tour, agreed.
“We’re doing this to honor many of the individuals who have paved the way for those of us in law enforcement, so it means a lot that the Department took time out to acknowledge us,” said Russo, who purchased a new bicycle – a red and black Cannondale – for the occasion.
The tour made its debut in May 1997, when 18 riders left Florham Park, N.J., and arrived in Washington, D.C., four days later. This year, cyclists from at least 40 states and six countries rode.
Senior Correctional Police Officer (SCPO) Michael Gallagher of South Woods State Prison took part in the tour for the second time in 2019. The first time was in 2017, when he was riding as a tribute to SCPO Nikeelan Semmon, an Albert C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility custody staff member who died in July 2016 while on duty.
Shockingly, approximately 30 miles into the 2017 ride, Gallagher suffered a near-fatal heart attack.
“I actually was dead before I hit the concrete,” said Gallagher, an Executive Vice President of the Policeman’s Benevolent Association, Local 105. “I had to be revived. When I woke up, there was a state trooper performing CPR on me.”
Gallagher, who underwent open heart surgery following the incident, was a member of the support staff during this year’s tour. He is hoping to ride in the 2020 tour.
“It’s so important to honor those officers who made the ultimate sacrifice,” stated Gallagher, who noted that the union provided financial support of the tour. “When we began the tour, 38 officers had died in the line of duty this year. That’s 38 too many.”
Members of the NJDOC contingent carried the badges of the Department’s fallen officers throughout their journey.
“It was an honor looking up all of those names [on the memorial] and then taking photos with their badges,” said Correctional Police Lieutenant James Hunsicker of Bayside State Prison, who participated for the fourth time.
Zachary Keller, also a Correctional Police Lieutenant at Bayside, was humbled by the encouragement the cyclists received throughout the journey to Washington, D.C.
“During the ride, a lot of schools would bring the kids outside as we came through,” said Keller, a four-time participant. “When you realize how excited the children are to see you, you immediately forget about how tired you are or how sore you are. As soon as you see the faces of the kids, nothing else matters. Those experiences were incredibly uplifting.”
However, the riders were in unanimous agreement that the single most inspiring moment of the tour was the arrival at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. “It’s overwhelming, especially for those of us who have an understanding of what the family members [of fallen officers] are going through,” Anna Miglio related.
Added SCPO Michael Drybread of the Correctional Sta" Training Academy, a 12-time participant: “When you get to the Memorial, you see all the other riders and the families of those who died in the line of duty. If you don’t decide at that moment that you’ll be back again next year, then the significance of what you’re doing has been lost on you.”
Matt Schuman is a former newspaper reporter and editor who serves as the Public Information Office for the NJ Department of Corrections. He has been with NJDOC since 2000.
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