Knoxville — Dozens of supporters of the families of fallen law enforcement officers gathered Thursday night on the Knoxville square.
This was part of a Ride for COPS, an organization dedicated to helping these families. The group was led by Harry Herington, the CEO of NIC, Inc., which builds official web sites, online services, and secure payment processing solutions for more than 3,500 federal, state, and local government agencies across the U.S.
Herington, a former officer and undercover agent, founded Ride4Cops and has been helping organize Blue Knights chapters. He has a goal of participating in motorcycle rides in every state to promote awareness of the C.O.P.S. Foundation, and has personally pledged $20,000 to the cause with a lifetime personal goal of $1 million.
"Somebody's got to be there for the families," Herington said.
Each year, between 140-160 officers lose their lives in the line of duty in the United States. These deaths often involve violence, and even if they do not, they become very public.
The media and the public at large only see a badge. Those within the law enforcement community see a family member, and those the officer left behind who are in need of any support they can be given.
Herington said things can be difficult for officers. They can easily become removed from the rest of society, knowing in the backs of their minds they might have to arrest the person they are socializing with. Sometimes something as simple as having a beer with a friend can be difficult. Therefore, they turn to each other.
They become like families themselves. The entire community of law enforcement agencies in the country feel like an extended family. When one officer is killed, they all feel it and try to reach out.
But it's not all about the other officers. There are relatives, people who may not have necessarily signed up for the isolation and public spectacle that comes with having an officer in the family.
When Trooper Mark Toney of the Iowa State Patrol was killed in the line of duty near Indianola in September 2011, the law enforcement family immediately went to his relatives. Toney's sister, Debbie Wiseman of Chicago, said she had not heard of the organization before they appeared on her doorstep.
"They were there the morning after we were notified," Wiseman said. "They came to the house less than 12 hours after we were notified."
Wiseman made the trip to Knoxville from Chicago because she believes in the organization's mission. The group was helpful to the family with nearly every aspect of handling Toney's death.
"They've just helped with a lot of things," Darrin Toney, Mark's son, said. COPS has been there for the family with everything from planning a funeral, final estate planning and helping them find necessary counseling. The group even delivered food to the family in the days after Toney's death.
"I can't even imagine doing this ourselves," Sharon Schwartz, another sister, said.
"Being a cop was Mark," Wiseman said. "It was everything he wanted."
The family members volunteered to help the organization raise money at the Knoxville Nationals Thursday night. A special Legends race was part of Thursday night's action, including a parade of law enforcement vehicles, in honor of the officers America has lost.
"COPS is one of the best organizations I've seen so far," Leon Schwartz said.
Raising awareness of the group is one of Herington's missions. He has a Harley-Davison motorcycle, specially decorated with indicators of who he is and what COPS is about.
As a successful CEO, he has found more time and money to travel around the country on the bike, raising awareness. He has ridden the bike to 20 state capitols - including Hawaii. To get there, the bike had to be shipped, but if there was a bridge, he would have ridden the bike.
Herington provided a tour of the bike. On the front is a painting of Saint Michael, Patron Saint of Police Officers, carrying a fallen officer to heaven. Paintings of the badges he had, when he was an officer, also adorn the bike, with American flags at half staff and the quote, "Blessed are the peacemakers," which law enforcement officers are.
The bike has also been outfitted with several pins from various agencies he has touched throughout the years. These are not always on the bike, only placed when he's on a ride.
In his storage cases are dozens of photos of fallen officers, given to him by family members. On many occasions, when talking with a family member, he or she will just hand Herington a photo from his or her wallet.
"They just hand me these memories," Herington said. One thing everyone wants stressed about fallen officers is for them to be remembered as heroes, how they lived their lives, and not how they died.
"I just believe in the cause so much," Herington said. "Every dime goes back to help these families."
The bike has GPS built in, and one can find out where the bike is by visiting Herington's website, http://www.ride4COPS.com.