Honor, leadership, and unity. These three words resonated during the Federal Law Enforcement Offficers Association (F.L.E.O.A.) Foundation's Awards Ceremony hosted at the National Law Enforcement Museum on Friday Dec. 16.
During the ceremony Foundation President Jon Adler presented two categories of awards to four honorees: Law Enforcement Leader of the Year and Law Enforcement Patriot of the year.
Donald Mihalek, Foundation vice president, opened the ceremony with introductory remarks, and thanked Altria Group Inc. for sponsoring the event. He was followed by Marcia Ferranto, CEO of the National Law Enforcement Museum, who welcomed everyone to "our house." That “House,” the National Law Enforcement Museum, was an excellent venue for hosting the awards ceremony, and it provided the guests with the opportunity to experience the interactive exhibits.
Foundation President Adler began his remarks by recognizing Bay St. Louis, MS, officers Sgt. Steven Robin and Officer Branden Estorffe, who were fatally shot in the line of duty two days before the ceremony. Adler asked everyone to honor and remember these “fallen heroes and their ultimate sacrifice,” and prayed they both rest in honorable, loving, eternal peace.
The first award presented was the 2022 Law Enforcement Leader(s) of the Year. Adler presented this honor to Patrick Montuore and Harry Phillips, the leaders of the Police Unity Tour. Since 1997, President Montuore and Executive Director Phillips have led a growing group of active and retired law enforcement officers riding their bicycles into Washington, DC, during National Police Week. On May 12, 2022, more than 2,600 Unity Tour riders arrived in the nation’s capital at the same time, concluding their tour at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Collectively, they raised more than $2 million for the Memorial and Law Enforcement Museum, bringing their cumulative contribution to over $33 million. The Unity Tour motto is, "We ride for those who died." Each year, riders complete a four-day trek to Washington to honor the “service and sacrifice of our fallen heroes.”
Accepting the award, Montuore and Phillips talked about riding each year to ensure fallen officers are not forgotten. They said it is an honor to wear a bracelet inscribed with the name of a fallen hero and then present it to a surviving family member after they arrive at the Memorial. They credited all the riders, past, and present for their contributions that have helped build and sustain the Memorial. The Unity Tour is a nonpartisan charitable organization with riders from local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement. President Montuore and the Unity Tour currently host a podcast on RVN Television titled, "On Your Honor," in support of the issues impacting the law enforcement profession.
Adler next presented the 2021 Law Enforcement Leader of the Year award to Chief Robert Contee III of the DC Metropolitan Police Department. In his remarks, Adler cited Chief Contee's distinguished leadership during the challenges of the January 6 protest at the Capitol. He also recognized Contee for his strong leadership and public engagement during a period where violent crime was escalating. Contee gave passionate remarks during a community walk where he cited the need to hold felons with guns accountable. He stated emphatically, "When I start talking about accountability, people start talking mass incarceration. I’m not talking about mass incarceration. I’m talking about holding people accountable who make our communities unsafe.” Chief Contee was appealing to the public to look at the whole justice system to understand the rise in violent crime, and not simply shift the blame to the police.
In his remarks, Contee spoke of being sworn in as chief just four days prior to the January 6 protests at the Capitol. He said he was honored to lead what he considered to be an outstanding police department comprised of the finest police officers in the nation. Contee identified the many stressors and risks that confront his police officers. He praised his officers for doing a great job getting illegal guns off the street, but pointed out the challenges they face when violent criminals are immediately released back into communities. He appealed to all officers to keep the faith, exercise good judgment, and keep an open mind and heart.
Following Chief Contee's remarks, Adler presented the 2021 Law Enforcement Patriot of the Year award to the Tulsi Gabbard, former Democratic Congresswoman from Hawaii and military combat veteran. He first provided background on the criteria for this award. Adler said the honoree must demonstrate support for the core values of the law enforcement mission. He added that an honoree respects and honors the service and sacrifice of our nations' law enforcement fallen heroes. Adler praised Gabbard for her meritorious service as an officer with the Army National Guard and as a former Military Police platoon leader. He also recognized her conciliatory approach towards discussing politics and for denouncing political extremism.
It was clear in her remarks that Rep. Gabbard has the utmost respect for the service and sacrifice of fallen law enforcement officers. She compared her experience in Iraq with the dangers confronting officers while serving their communities and their nation. She also emphasized her commitment to both the spirit and text of the United States Constitution. She said all Americans must respect and follow the rule of law and ignore the hateful rhetoric of those who seek to divide us. Gabbard praised her sister Davan, former Deputy U.S. Marshal, for riding in the Police Unity Tour for many years.
Adler closed out the ceremony by wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday season.
Note: The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Foundation greatly appreciates the support from its sponsors and thanks POLICE magazine for sustained support. The Foundation also asks everyone to support the Police Unity Tour (www.policeunitytour.com) and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (www.NLEOMF.org). God bless, Happy Holidays and stay safe.