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OPD ambush one year later: Remembering the fallen

With some words from our columnists and friends, PoliceOne recognizes the solemn anniversary of the Oakland Police Department's darkest day

On March 21, 2009 a 26-year-old paroled felon and rape suspect murdered four courageous Oakland Police Officers. Officer John Hege and Sergeant Mark Dunakin were gunned down just feet from their motors during a traffic stop. Hours later, Sergeants Daniel Sakai and Ervin Romans were shot to death as their SWAT unit assaulted the apartment in which Lovelle Mixon, armed with an AK-47, laid in ambush.

This Sunday marks one year since the tragedy that shook that department and all of law enforcement across the country. OPD says it will not do anything to officially commemorate this weekend — the Oakland Police Officers Association plans a barbecue for officers — opting instead to officially honor its fallen in ceremonies to be held during Police Week.

An article from San Francisco Chronicle reporter Chip Johnson includes the comments of Michael Palmertree, a psychotherapist who has worked with OPD for three decades. “Days like these can be trauma-triggers,” Palmertree says. “It’s the punch you don’t see that knocks you out.”

A framed picture of slain Oakland Police Officers Sgt. Mark Dunakin, 40; John Hege, 41; Sgt. Ervin Romans, 43; and Sgt. Daniel Sakai, 35 is placed at a makeshift memorial.
A framed picture of slain Oakland Police Officers Sgt. Mark Dunakin, 40; John Hege, 41; Sgt. Ervin Romans, 43; and Sgt. Daniel Sakai, 35 is placed at a makeshift memorial.

PoliceOne recognizes this solemn anniversary with some words from a small handful of our columnists and friends. We close this brief memorial with a Scottish poem by an unknown author, provided to us by PoliceOne member George Curtis, a patrol officer with the Tacoma Community College Public Safety Department. Officer Curtis originally posted that poem in the comments area beneath one of our pieces of news coverage of the tragedy last year.

In an e-mail exchange this morning, Curtis adds, “Last year was a very difficult year for a lot of us here in the Tacoma area because of the four Lakewood officers we lost in November, and I remember reading that poem a few times myself to remind me why we love and honor our heroes and why we choose to do this job. I am glad I was able to offer you some measure of strength and comfort by passing it along, and I am sure it will help others who read it as well.”

We encourage you to add your thoughts and prayers in the comments area below.

Dr. Bill Lewinski, founder of the Force Science Institute and a former Street Survival Seminar instructor, agrees with Palmertree’s comment above.

“In some ways,” Lewinski explains, “anniversary and situational reminders of a traumatic event can result in a level of re-traumatization that can come close to, if not equal or even surpass, the level of trauma associated with the original event. These flashback-type moments of recalling the incident can catch officers, family members and anyone else impacted by the event very much off guard. This can be not only painful and alarming, but demoralizing as well. Survivors may have worked very hard at coping with their sadness, anxiety and fear following the event and now, unexpectedly, a date or a situation throws them right back to the time of the incident, essentially, to their thinking, sending them back to square one emotionally. This can be devastating. However, if survivors work with this and take steps to successfully navigate these recall incidents, they can be transformed from reminders of pain to reminders of gain. They can become opportunities for them look back and see how far they have come.”

Chief Jeff Chudwin of the Olympia Fields (Ill.) Police Department says, “The tragic events in Oakland one year ago must serve as a call to every law enforcement officer to renew our vigilance, training, and determination. We shall honor the fallen officers and in doing so keep close their memory. We will remember and learn from the terrible truths of that day. God Bless them, their families, loved ones, and friends who must endure the unending bitter loss.”

“Incidents such as these,” says Assistant Chief Mike Williams of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) PD, “must serve as reminders to all of us in the tactical community that the training we do and the gear we wear does not make invulnerable. We as leaders must continue to ensure that our officer train hard and plan for any contingency and to take nothing for granted.”

Street Survival Seminar Lead Instructor Jim Glennon says, “This year we are approximately 75 percent above our 2009 officer down stats. In 2009, multiple officers were murdered during the same incident by one criminal predator.  In Lakewood, Washington, it was four in a coffee shop... Seminole County Oklahoma, two on a warrant arrest... Okaloosa, Florida, two on a warrant arrest... Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, three on a domestic... and in Oakland, four that originated from a traffic stop. While the raw numbers of crimes may have dropped the reality is that we still have thousands of sociopathic monsters on the prowl. It is our duty to not only stop them but to recognize who they are before they are able to act. We have to visualize the reality of our profession. Gunfights don’t always happen on major felony calls or on the seven-yard line while engaged with one bad guy wielding a pistol. As with Oakland, a traffic stop, and Pittsburgh, a domestic, murderous predators will take any opportunity to kill. We must recognize predatory behavior and be ready, willing, and able to act in reality in order to preserve both the peace and our lives.”

In an e-mail to PoliceOne this morning John Farnam concludes, “Dark clouds are gathering. Let us train as if our lives depend on it. Life is run by poker players, not systems analysts. Opportunity knocks, but seldom nags.”

Let Me Go
When I come at last to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me
I want no tears in a gloom-filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?

Miss me a little but not for long
And not with your head bowed low
Remember the love that we once shared
Miss me, but let me go.

For this is a journey we all must take
And each must travel alone
It’s all a part of the Master’s plan
A step on the road to home.

When you find you are lonely and sick of heart
Go to the Friend we all know
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds
Miss me, but let me go.

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