Lakewood (Wash.) Police Sgt. Mark Eakes carried more than just a memory of fellow Sgt. Mark Renninger as he peddled the 320 miles of the Police Unity Tour from New Jersey to D.C. during National Police Week.
Eakes wore the fallen officer's chronograph sport watch—with its black rubberized bezel and white face—around his wrist.
"I couldn't help looking down at the watch [during the ride]," Eakes told POLICE Magazine, after arriving at the fallen-officer memorial on Wednesday. "The ride is a great way for us to remember those officers."
The four-officer team from a department still grieving from the ambush killings of four of its own in a Seattle-area coffeehouse in November were among the 1,100 officers participating in the annual ride.
Eakes and Lakewood officers John Fraser, Charles Porche and Michelle Hector added pictures of Renninger, Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens, and Greg Richards to their bicycles and shared their stories with fellow LEOs during the ride that started Sunday in East Hanover, N.J.
For the ride, Fraser learned how to ride a six-speed. Porche set up a blog to post updates along the route. The officers spoke about their fallen comrades with pride and emotion coloring their voices.
"Tina always took care of me," Hector said. "She always told me what to look out for. She always had my back."
The officers decided to participate in the unity ride for the first time this year at the urging of Oakland police officers who attended the Dec. 8 memorial at the Tacoma Dome for the Lakewood officers.
Twenty officers from Oakland, another department with a multiple-officer ambush killing in 2009, also participated in the ride, as did officers from Pittsburgh.
With few agencies funding trips, most of the officers paid their own way to participate in the ride, said Michael Wozniak, president of the San Francisco Bay Area F.O.P. Lodge 17.
"When you know that people are seeing fewer movies, eating out at less restaurants and putting less gas in their cars, it lends a little bit more importance to the event," Wozniak said.
Other officers took their own approach to the ride. Scott Haigh, a DARE officer from Rockaway Boro PD, handed out 2,000 unity tour mini flags to children.
And the Jersey City PD's Officer Anthony Iannisco and Detective Jerry DeCicco rode for Marc DiNardo, a tactical officer killed by a suspect's shotgun blast during a building raid in July.
"We thought it was important to do this and show our honor to him," DeCicco said. "We were filled with a lot of pride."
Officers who ride in the Police Unity Tour pledge to raise at least $1,700 each in sponsor donations. This year, officers raised $1.1 million that will be used to resurface the walls of the memorial that now has almost 19,000 names.
National Police Week: Police Unity Tour (photo gallery)