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Home  >  Topics  >  Police Heroes

March 23, 2009
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Betsy Brantner Smith Survival Insights
with Betsy Brantner Smith

I cried: One community’s tragedy is a profound loss for us all

Editor's note: Anyone who would like to make a contribution to trust funds set up for the families may do so by two methods — wire transfer or by check. Wire transfers may be made directly to the following Merrill Lynch accounts: The Dunakin Children's Family Trust, Acct. No. 204-04065; The Romans Children's Family Trust, Acct. No. 204-04066; and The Sakai Family Trust, Acct. No. 204-04064. No fund had been set up as of Monday afternoon on behalf of Hege, who had no children. Individual checks can also be made out to the families and mailed to the Oakland Police Officer's Association, Attn: Rennee Hassna, 555 5th Street, Oakland, CA, 94607. Make checks payable to the Dunakin Children's Family Trust; the Romans Children's Family Trust; Sakai Family Trust.

I was running around the house on a Saturday night, trying to get ready for an early morning flight to Seattle to teach “Street Survival.” I had just worked a 13 hour shift on patrol, and now I was packing, answering emails, doing laundry and dealing with a cranky 14-year-old with a bad head cold.

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As I ran through the kitchen on some sort of domestic mission my husband, who had been watching the news, said “We lost them all, baby.” I stopped, not fully comprehending what he was referring to, and just stared. He repeated “we lost them all. In Oakland. All four are dead. From one traffic stop we lost four.” Unleashing a string of obscenities typical for a veteran street sergeant, I turned to my husband for answers, peppering him with questions. “We don’t know anything yet, just that its two patrol officers and two SWAT guys, and one dead a-hole.” We were both quiet then, trying to grasp the enormity of the situation.

I went upstairs to finish packing, but instead I just slumped onto the bed. I thought about their families, wondered if they had kids, tried to imagine the chaos and the agony that OPD must be engulfed. And then I did what I knew so many others were doing in California, around the country, and as the news spread, around the world...I cried.

I cried. I prayed. I wondered how could this happen; I lamented that it did happen, and then I cried some more. I didn’t even know their names, but I knew that they were my brothers, that they had chosen the same path of service and excitement, that now they had sacrificed and that none of us would ever be the same. Four officers, one agency, one suspect, and an unthinkable loss.

Early the next morning my alarm went off, but instead of stumbling into the shower, I went immediately to the computer. There they were, their names, their pictures; Sergeant Mark Dunakin, Officer John Hege, Sergeant Ervin Romans, and Sergeant Daniel Sakai, all dead or dying. I looked at those smiling, handsome faces and wondered about their final moments; did they know they were dying when the time came?

I thought about my own officers—my own police family—and my cop friends throughout this country and beyond. I prayed that these families and Oakland Police Department would be able to cope in the days, weeks and months ahead, and I hoped that the community would be kind to them.

I knew that eventually we would learn more, that this would forever be a part of law enforcement history, much like the Newhall incident nearly 20 years ago that claimed the lives of four young officers from the California Highway Patrol.

I knew there was much more to come, but for now, it was enough to just cry.


About the author

Sergeant Betsy Smith has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, retiring as a patrol supervisor in a large Chicago suburb. A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety's School of Staff and Command and a Street Survival seminar instructor for more than 9 years, Betsy is now a speaker, author and a primary PoliceOne Academy consultant. Visit Betsy's website at www.femaleforces.com.

Contact Betsy Smith and Follow Betsy on Twitter





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