GREENFIELD — You don’t have to be a member of a law enforcement family to appreciate the bond that holds police officers together, Stacey Miller said.
The New Palestine native for more than seven years has taken to her bicycle, accepting an honorary spot among men and women in blue, among their friends and loved ones, to participate in the Cops Cycling for Survivors bike ride, an annual fundraiser to benefit the families of fallen officers.
A handful of local police officers and community members, like Miller, have participated in this year’s 13-day trek across the state, which wraps up Saturday.
The ride raises more than $40,000 annually to benefit the families of fallen Indiana police officers. The riders seek these donations from their friends and neighbors, and the funds go to create scholarships for the officers’ children.
In the time she’s participated, Miller has seen the connection police families share, and that understanding drivers her to help them, she said. Every drop of sweat and every sore muscle from the ride is worth it to show solidarity and support for these folks, she said; to give back to them and help bring comfort to those who have lived through great tragedy.
About 30 officers and friends of law enforcement ride a leg of the 1,000-mile route each day. Some participants ride all 13 days; others join the crowd for only a day or two, said Tom Eddy of Greenfield, a member of the Cops Cycling for Survivors organizational committee. Along the way, the riders meet with the families of the fallen officers, share meals with them and hear stories about their lost loved ones.
In 2012, the Cops Cycling for Survivors Foundation was formed and began conducting a summer ride around the state to visit spots where local officers were killed in the line of duty, organizers said.
Recent shootings that targeted police officers – including one in Dallas, where five officers were gunned down while providing security at a Black Lives Matter protest; and one in Baton Rouge, where three officers were shot by a lone gunman along a city highway – has weighed heavily on the minds of everyone involved this year, Miller said.
Blue stars carrying those officers’ names were placed on the sides of an equipment trailer that follows the riders around the state, Miller said. Bystanders watching the ride wrote messages of condolence, thanks or encouragement on the side of the trailer, near the stars, as the group passed through their city.
The ride for survivors has become a summer staple for any Hoosier with a connection to law enforcement, local participants said.
Greenfield Police Cpl. Steve McCarley participates in the ride each year in memory of fallen Greenfield Patrolman Will Phillips, who was killed in a hit-and-run accident in 2010 while training for the department’s cycling team.
Though the ride has a solemn undertone, it often feels like a reunion, McCarley said. The same survivors turn out year after year, and participants become familiar with the families, developing quickly from strangers to friends, he said.
Those meetings with the families members of the fallen officers are some of the most memorable moments of the trek, said Hancock County sheriff’s Deputy Nick Ernstes, who participated in the ride for the first time this year.
During the time Ernstes rode with the group, he spoke with survivors who said the pain they feel after losing an officer never goes away; but having this show of support from others serves as a reminder the sacrifice was not forgotten, he said.
“It was all very moving,” Ernstes said. “For me, it brought new meaning to being a police officer.”