- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2000

Hundreds of motorcycle police officers from across Maryland drove into Prince George's County yesterday to raise money for families of police officers killed in the line of duty in Maryland.

The families who number more than 200 will be at least $45,000 richer by the time the motorcycles start their engines for the return trip home from yesterday's inaugural ride.

About 750 officers and their supporters traveled from as far as Annapolis, Baltimore, Frederick and Gambrills to raise money for the Maryland chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), a nonprofit organization that helps families get the counseling and financial help they need after the deaths of their loved ones.

"It's a great cause because you let these families know that people haven't forgotten them and their loved ones who were killed," said Nancy Wilson, who lost her first husband, Prince George's Police Sgt. John Bagileo, in a car accident in 1994.

"It also shows that people still respect the law enforcement officers, and that always helps these families," Mrs. Wilson said.

COPS works with law enforcement agencies, police organizations, mental health professionals and local peer-support groups to help surviving families cope with the deaths of their loved ones.

The organization provides counseling and financial assistance at the time of the officer's death, and offers college scholarships for the victims' children. It also hosts camps for children whose parent was killed while on duty.

"It's a fantastic cause," said Prince George's Police Cpl. John Bartlett Jr., president of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police.

"It really reaches out and helps the families who need it," Cpl. Bartlett added.

COPS helped Lisa Lanzi of Cecil County, whose husband, Joe, a Maryland state trooper, was killed in a car accident in 1995. Mrs. Lanzi and her three children turned to COPS members for support.

"The support helped us tremendously," said Mrs. Lanzi, who is now the president of the group's Maryland chapter. "At first, I was someone who didn't want to be a member of this kind of group. But it was really good for me to have someone I could talk to who was in the same situation. It puts some normalcy back in your life."

The motorcycle ride also received support from businesses that, in some cases, donated as much as $5,000 to help COPS.

With the money raised yesterday, Mrs. Lanzi said she hopes to organize a weekend retreat for widows and widowers and expand the group's scholarship program to include out-of-state colleges.

The organization continues to offer support for the families weeks after the loss. "Historically, these families are surrounded by tons of people around the time of death," Prince George's Police Lt. Don Fletcher said. "Three weeks later, they find themselves alone. That's when this group helps.

"I know that if anything happens to me, my family would be taken care of," Lt. Fletcher added.

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