RICHMOND -- Anthony Diaz spends most days on his police bicycle, pedaling around the Iron Triangle to protect residents in that crime-plagued neighborhood.
This spring, Diaz will join more than 1,600 others in pedaling down the Eastern Seaboard to pay tribute to fallen officers nationwide and raise money for their families.
"I did it for the first time last year," said Diaz, sitting on his police bike near Nevin Park. "It was an unforgettable experience."
Diaz and fellow Officer Joe Avila will represent Richmond in the 300-mile Police Unity Tour bicycle ride to honor officers killed on duty. The ride takes place in May during National Police Week in Washington, D.C.
The ride starts in Somerset, N.J., and ends at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The event draws many in the Bay Area's tight-knit law enforcement community. Diaz and Avila will ride in honor of several local law enforcement members killed on duty.
Many more officers in the region are participating in the ride as well: Pittsburg Officer Larry Lasater's widow, JoAnn Lasater; California Highway Patrol Officer Mike Walker's widow, Michelle Walker; Vallejo Officer Jim Capoot's oldest daughter, Jillian Capoot; and Sacramento County Sheriff's Department Deputy Jeff Mitchell's widow, Crystal Mitchell.
Diaz and Avila participated for the first time last year. They were told about the event by Susan Moody, the widow of Bradley Moody, a Richmond police officer killed on duty in 2008. Moody will also ride this year, Diaz said.
The event, started by New Jersey Officer Patrick Montuore in 1997, is also a fundraiser for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund to help families of officers killed on duty, as well as funding the National Law Enforcement Memorial Museum.
Each participant is required to raise $1,800. The night after the race, more than 10,000 police officers, friends and family from all over the world will take part in a candlelight vigil to remember the officers lost in the past year. The ride starts May 10 and ends May 12.
"It's emotional; it's overwhelming to a lot of tough men and women," said Harry Phillips, a retired police sergeant in West Orange, N.J., and spokesman for the Police Unity Tour. "Everybody wears sunglasses. "
While the event raised $1.6 million for families of fallen officers last year, Diaz came up a bit short in his fundraising.
"I came out of pocket a few hundred dollars to get to $1,800," Diaz said. "But I was more than happy to do it."
Avila, who pulled up in a police cruiser minutes earlier, said, "Neither of us are really very good at asking for money."
Diaz and Avila are riding this year in honor of three fallen officers each.
Diaz, 28, an avid fitness enthusiast, is riding for Officers Capoot, Jermaine Gibson and Leonard Garcia.
Capoot was shot and killed while chasing a suspected bank robber in Vallejo in November 2011. Gibson, of Cathedral City, died in a high-speed chase in March 2011. Garcia was shot and killed in Richmond while responding to a domestic disturbance in 1992.
"These officers laid down their lives to protect people they did not even know," Diaz said.
Avila, 42, patrols the city's northern district and admitted that the ride is more of a physical challenge for him.
"It's the most rewarding thing I've done but also the most physically demanding," Avila said.
Avila will ride for Officers William "Bill" Whitty, Scott Greenly and Kenyon Youngstrom.
Youngstrom, a CHP officer, was fatally shot during a traffic stop in Alamo in September. Greenly, also a CHP officer, was hit by a car during a traffic stop in Campbell in 1998.
Whitty, whom Avila said he grew up admiring because Whitty was his family's neighbor in Richmond, was a Richmond police veteran killed in a plane crash in 1984. Whitty and Officer Ronald Fuller were surveilling a drug bust.
"Bill inspired me to become an officer," Avila said.
For Diaz, the highlight of the ride is the end.
"Many of the family members of the fallen are there in Washington to greet us," Diaz said. "Last year, I met Jermaine's (Gibson) mom, and I was overwhelmed."
Avila chimed in once more before rushing back to his car to respond to a call.
"We ride to show the families we will never forget," he said. "Just like we'll never forget Brad (Moody) here, the other officers will never be forgotten by their families and communities."
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.
Visit the Richmond officers' Police Unity Tour fundraising page at www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/tony-diaz/police-unity-tour-challenge-ride