A name is read aloud. A date. Then silence, broken only by the sound of heels clicking against the white, shiny floor of the Oakland Police Department lobby. A wife, a mother, a son or a sister — stoic and composed, or blinking back tears — walks past fellow mourners to add a white rose to a badge-shaped display of red carnations.
This scene has repeated the past 13 years at the annual Oakland Police Memorial, sponsored by the department and the Oakland Police Officers Association. It's a brief ceremony, somber and respectful, attended by family members, police and officials, held to honor the city's officers killed in the line of duty as far back as 1867.
At this year's ceremony, held Wednesday morning, the sense of loss was magnified by the addition of four new names gouged into the black stone memorial wall in the lobby: Officer John Hege and Sgts. Mark Dunakin, Erv Romans and Daniel Sakai, all shot March 21 by parolee Lovelle Mixon in what started as a so-called routine traffic stop in East Oakland but ended as the deadliest day in the department's history.
Their deaths brought to 51 the total number of fallen Oakland officers.
Accompanied by a gentle rendition of "Amazing Grace" from St. Leo's school choir, relatives filed into rows of folding chairs set up in the lobby as dozens of police department staff members and officers in dress uniforms crowded around the edges in silence. Sgt. Sakai's police
"In my 21 years here, I've attended to 12 of the line-of-duty deaths," acting police Chief Howard Jordan told the group. "That's too much. One is too much.
"We took an oath of office to serve and protect," he said. "None of us took an oath to die in the line of duty. Unfortunately, it is part of the job."
"This year has been the most difficult of our careers," said Oakland police spokesman Jeff Thomason. "The emotions and grieving that each member (of the department) has experienced are just a fraction of what all of the families here have been through."
Oakland Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Rebecca Kaplan, and Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff attended the ceremony. City administrator Dan Lindheim read a brief statement from Mayor Ron Dellums, who was in New York City on Wednesday delivering a speech on the city's Get Screened Oakland program at a meeting of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
"Every day our Oakland police officers put their lives on the line," Lindheim read. "And we thank them for their courage, their dedication to this community and their commitment to protect and serve."
Then the names were read, beginning at "Richard B. Richardson, Oct. 23, 1867," and ending with Hege.
After the service, Hege's mother, Tamra Hege, expressed her appreciation for the event. "I feel a lot of support from everyone," she said. "The officers have been just great. Our situation is a little different because John lived alone, so we're the only ones who have a whole house to empty, a motorcycle to deal with — the difficult, practical things that have to be done. And the support has been wonderful."
Sgt. Dunakin's brother, Chris, said he didn't feel Wednesday's service was a sad event, but rather a way to give tribute to all the fallen heroes.
"Mark and the other officers wouldn't want us to dwell on the negative," he said. "But just to remember the positive aspects of their lives."
Though relatives of many of the 51 officers do not attend the ceremony, have moved from the area or have long passed away, the department is determined that none of the officers be forgotten.
The niece of Thomas Prindiville, who was not even born when her uncle was killed in 1941 when his motorcycle crashed during a pursuit near Lake Merritt, said her family has attended the memorial ceremony since its inception.
"We've never missed one," said Pam Parson, of Castro Valley. "This is a very important event for all the families."
Wearing dark glasses, Sgt. Romans' wife, Nikki, spoke briefly to reporters. "Being the widow of a police officer is the worst club to be a part of," she said. "But I'm grateful for all the support from other widows and his co-workers. My husband will be always be remembered."
Staff writers Harry Harris and Kelly Rayburn contributed to this story.
Laura A. Oda/Staff photos
Laura Nikki Romans, the widow of Oakland police Sgt. Erv Romans, touches his name engraved on a wall at the Oakland Police Department during the annual police memorial Wednesday. At top, officers line up to salute the fallen men's loved ones, including Jennifer Sakai, below, the widow of Sgt. Daniel Sakai. Romans and Sakai were among four Oakland officers fatally shot March 21.