In 2018, 158 U.S. law enforcement officers died in the line of duty. To ensure that their names – and the names of nearly 22,000 more – are never forgotten, Colorado State University Police Cpl. Alisha Zellner will ride her bike nearly 300 miles in three days in May.
Zellner will join another 2,500 law enforcement officers and their family members on a ride from New Jersey through Philadelphia and Baltimore to Washington, D.C., where the names of all the nation’s law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty are engraved on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.
The Police Unity Tour is an annual ride dedicated to raising awareness of fallen officers. For Zellner, the ride has an even deeper meaning.
“In addition to remembering the names of officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice, I ride to remember the names of officers who have taken their own lives while actively serving as a police officer,” she said. “The effects of secondary trauma, post traumatic stress disorder, and the stigma officers face that is a barrier to asking for mental health help are very real, and have a deep impact on law enforcement officers. The stories of those losses are often not shared.”
The May 10-13 ride will conclude at the memorial with a candlelight vigil typically attended by more than 50,000 people. During the ceremony, the name of every officer who died in the line of duty during 2019 will be read and added to the more than 21,910 names already on the memorial.
For Zellner, this ride offers a way for her to support her two passions – making a positive difference through law enforcement and mental health. Before attending the Adams County police academy, she worked as a professional mental health counselor in Texas and at Mountain Crest Residential in Fort Collins, where she focused on safety planning, grief and loss, addiction counseling for youth, and building cultural awareness.
She currently serves as a wellness court board member in Larimer County. Wellness court assists community members who are struggling with mental health or drug and alcohol abuse issues, and helps to refocus their trajectory away from criminal activity and into treatment.
Zellner is also the Peer Support Team coordinator for CSU police officers, coordinating training for officers responding to situations involving mental health concerns as well as teaching de-escalation techniques, and providing support to officers during and following critical and traumatic incidents.
“I left a career in counseling for law enforcement after working with teens who were in crisis. They often interact with police when they are in crisis, and I wanted to use my skills on the front line to make the biggest impact in those situations,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to better understand what makes people tick, and then understand why they offend. I have a lot of love for people, and believe that most people are good and sometimes they just make bad decisions.”
Zellner was involved in student affairs work before graduating from CSU in 2009 with degrees in psychology and sociology with a concentration in criminology and criminal justice.
Strong support from CSUPD
Zellner is not the first CSUPD member to make the ride. Officer D Allen rode in 2018, a year that Colorado lost three police officers in the line of duty, and she met and rode with officers who were personally impacted by the loss of their colleagues. The ride started shortly after the STEM school shooting in Highlands Ranch, and riders included officers who responded to that incident.
“Arriving at the 911 memorial was a particularly special moment,” said Allen. “We rode through the memorial, and it was lined with the families – spouses, children, mothers and fathers – of officers who we had lost. There were children holding signs thanking us for riding for their father. It brought home why we were all coming together for that common purpose.”