RICHMOND -- As a Richmond police sergeant, Tod Opdyke loved being a cop in his hometown and cherished the relationships he fostered during his 35-year career.

But when it was his turn to be honored at the Richmond Police Officers Association Christmas and Retirement dinner Dec. 7, Opdyke, 58, hesitated a bit before leaving his table.

His wife, Barbara, stepson and four adult children watched as he approached the dance floor at the Concord Hilton Golden Gate Ballroom, where the association board members waited.

As association President Hector Esparza described to the more than 300 officers, retirees, friends and family how Opdyke excelled in fostering community relationships, the veteran officer smiled, occasionally glancing at the floor. Tears welled in his eyes when he received his gold retirement badge.

Richmond police sergeant Tod Opdyke holds his retirement badge and commemorative award for his 35 years of service. Opdyke was one of many retirees honored
Richmond police sergeant Tod Opdyke holds his retirement badge and commemorative award for his 35 years of service. Opdyke was one of many retirees honored at the Richmond Police Officers Association Christmas and Retirement Dinner, held Dec. 7 at the Concord Hilton. (Photo by Kevin N. Hume)

More than a year earlier, Opdyke lay on a floor in his home, unable to move. He was alone. In 1991, Opdyke was riding in a police paddy wagon with no seat belts, clutching a heavy battering ram. When the vehicle made a sudden stop, he flew forward and hit something inside. He went to the hospital later and found out he ruptured a disc.

More than 20 years later, the injury flared up, he said.

"I ended up laying on the floor for five hours," he said. "It took me a long time, an hour or better to find my cellphone. I was crawling on the floor very gingerly because I had this tremendous pain."

After months of physical therapy to work out his ruptured disc, Opdyke realized he would not be able to get back into proper shape to serve and reluctantly retired. In October, he penned a lengthy letter announcing his retirement and thanking the community, a message that Councilman Tom Butt shared via his email forum.

"Though my heart will always be with the Richmond Police Department and this city, I feel compelled to accept my fate even though I feel that I have so much more to contribute as a Richmond police sergeant," he wrote. "But there comes a time when you must know when to leave and, as the cliche goes, turn the page to a new chapter of my life. It is time."

In 35 years with the department, Opdyke served in nearly every division. In 2008, Chief Chris Magnus promoted Opdyke to sergeant, where he was placed in charge of Beat 1, which covered the Santa Fe, Marina Bay, Point Richmond and Brickyard Cove neighborhoods.

"He really understood that your best partners when it comes to fighting crime and getting the job done are the community," Magnus said. "He really built quality relationships. I hear from people all the time how much they miss him."

Opdyke said he communicated with the neighborhood councils and residents via an email forum to inform them of crime trends and attended many public meetings in his time as sergeant.

"It really put the community at ease and educated them," he said. "That community involvement is essential."

Opdyke grew up in the Santa Fe neighborhood near two Richmond police officers. One officer, Leo Garfield, eventually became police chief and hired Opdyke in 1978.

"I knew I had to prove myself," Opdyke said. "After being hired, I always addressed him as chief. I knew him. ... I just kept it strictly professional, and I focused on learning this job."

For more than 15 years, Opdyke shared a special daily moment with fellow Officer Mike DeOrian and two other officers. Before heading out to patrol during the swing shift following their daily briefing, the officers would meet up and grab coffee at the 7-11 on Macdonald Avenue and "discuss things only brothers would discuss."

After 10 minutes, they would leave, and DeOrian would toast to them and their department with the words, "There are none better, and damn few as good."

As Opdyke stood with the mic in his hand at the retirement dinner, he invited up his friend and fellow retiree DeOrian. DeOrian brought two cups of coffee with him, and they again toasted to their department like times of old.

"There are none better than you and damn few as good," Opdyke said to the crowd before he embraced his friend.

This article was produced by RichmondConfidential.org, a nonprofit news service based in the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.