Yale People

Yale police officer supports families of fallen ‘brethren’ in Tour de Force

Yale police officer Joe Funaro poses with his bike in front of the Yale Police station.
Yale police officer Joe Funaro patrols the campus by bicycle. He rode his personal bike in the Tour de Force to raise money for families of police officers killed in the line of duty over the past year. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

A couple of years ago, Yale Police officer Joe Funaro decided to sell his Bianchi road bike because it was hardly being used. No one showed any interest, which today Funaro sees as good fortune.

Shortly afterward, while working out in the gym, an acquaintance invited Funaro — a 16-year veteran of the Yale police department who mostly patrols his beat on a mountain bike — to help out in a worthy cause: the 2016 Tour de Force 9/11 Memorial Bike Ride. The annual cycling event, which takes place over four days and ends on 9/11, is a fundraiser for the families of police officers who died or were killed in the line of duty during that past year.

Funaro didn’t hesitate to dust off his bicycle and begin training for the 2016 ride, which began near the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. and ended at the site of Ground Zero.

Police officers are part of a brotherhood, and so the cause touched close to my heart,” says Funaro, who also participated in the tour this September. For this year’s ride, he traveled nearly 270 miles, from downtown Boston to Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan.

The Tour de Force was started in 2002 by New York City police detective Robert DePaola, who decided to ride his bike from the Pentagon to Ground Zero to honor the officers, firefighters, and other first-responders who were killed during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He was joined by a small group of fellow New York City officers for the inaugural journey. A year later, the Tour de Force became a nonprofit charity. Today, about 250 riders from around the nation — many of them police officers, firefighters, or EMTs — participate in the bicycle trek to raise money to support the families of recently fallen police officers.

This year, Funaro was part of a 28-person team called East Coast Colfax, which included about a half-dozen police officers. The team raised over $84,000 in contributions (each rider solicits donations for his or her ride). The 2017 Tour de Force raised approximately $600,000 in total.

Being a police officer is not an easy job, and I want to give something back to the families who have suffered a loss,” says Funaro.

Each rider participates in Tour de Force in honor of a fallen officer and wears a pin in his or her memory. Funaro rode in honor of Louisiana police officer Mike Louviere, who was shot and killed in January 2017 while responding to a traffic incident.

Before the Tour de Force, I e-mailed his police chief in Westwego to say that he and the sacrifice he made won’t be forgotten,” recalls Funaro. “That’s why we do the ride.”

While he was physically well prepared for last year’s tour, the Yale police officer said he started his training on his Bianchi bike a little bit late this year due to a busy schedule, which includes attending the sporting events of his two high-school-aged children. Over the summer, he spent about two days a week in training, taking 25- to 35-mile bike rides near his home in New London.

After the first leg of this year’s tour, a 59-mile ride from Boston to Warwick, Rhode Island, he already felt a little sore. On the second day, he pedaled 83 miles from Warwick to Foxwoods Resort & Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut. He had a short rest for part of the third day as the riders embarked on the New London ferry to Orient Point on Long Island, but then made up for the brief respite with an 83-mile ride to Melville, Long Island. The last leg was a 46-mile ride from Melville to Battery Park. For the final 20 miles of the Tour de Force, the riders were escorted by a motorcycle motorcade of New York City police officers.

I kept reminding myself it’s not a race, it’s just a ride,” Funaro says.

Joe Funaro in this year's Tour de Force.
Joe Funaro in this year's Tour de Force.

Being on a bike during his daytime shifts at Yale is as meaningful as riding in the tour for Funaro, who says he became a police officer because he has always enjoyed being of service to the community and helping those in need.

Being on the bike makes you more accessible,” he explains. “You get to interact with people more than you would in a cruiser. You can say hi.”

Working at Yale was of special interest to him, Funaro said, since his late father, an artist who taught at Paier School of Art in Hamden, also had a history with the university. He painted some of the portraits of notable Yale Law School affiliates, including one of former President Bill Clinton, as well as other people with a university connection. Clinton is among the many notable campus visitors Funaro has been able to meet over the years in his role as a police officer, and he said he was excited to have his own picture taken with the subject of one of his father’s paintings.

Yale is a world-renowned university, and being here allows me to interact with a diverse community — people of all different backgrounds and from all over the world.”

Before he became an officer, he played professional baseball for the Florida Marlins’ AAA league, and he is now supporting his son, who also plays baseball, as he begins his college application process.

Having the opportunity (and his Bianchi bike) to take part in the Tour de Force for the past two years has been deeply “gratifying,” says Funaro.

It’s one small thing I can do to help the families of others in my own line of work,” he says. “I get to meet people from different police departments all over the country, and to meet people from many different walks of life. It’s a good time, and I now look forward to it.” 

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