Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tragedy in Oakland: Four Officers Gunned Down

Even as the number of law enforcement officers killed by gunfire in the United States reached a 52-year low last year, Saturday’s violence in Oakland, CA, illustrates the enormous and unpredictable dangers that officers continue to face from heavily armed criminals who won’t hesitate to fire on officers—in this instance, not once but twice.

Three Oakland police sergeants were shot and killed, and a fourth officer gravely injured, during two related incidents involving the same gunman. Together, the shootings are among the deadliest attacks on law enforcement in California history.

At about 1:15 pm on March 21, Sergeant Mark Dunakin, 40, and Officer John Hege, 41, both motorcycle officers, were shot following a traffic stop in East Oakland. Just over two hours later, SWAT team members, responding to an anonymous tip, tracked the gunman to an apartment building just a few blocks from the original shooting scene. As they entered a bedroom, the gunman opened fire through a closet, striking Sergeant Ervin Romans, 43, and Sergeant Dan Sakai, 35. Another member of the SWAT team, though injured himself by gunfire, managed to shoot and kill the suspect, a parolee who had been convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and was also wanted on a no-bail warrant.

Sergeants Dunakin, Romans and Sakai all died from their injuries on Saturday. Officer Hege was declared brain dead Sunday morning at Highland Hospital in Oakland and remained on life support to preserve his organs for donation. Oakland City Council member Larry Reid called it “one of the worst days in the history of Oakland.”

Saturday’s deadly shootings come at a time when law enforcement officer fatalities in general—and officer deaths involving firearms specifically—are on the decline. According to NLEOMF records, 133 officers died in the line of duty in 2008, a 27 percent decrease from the prior year and the lowest annual total since 1960. Last year, 39 officers were killed in firearms-related incidents, a decrease of 43 percent from 2007 and the lowest number since 1956.

NLEOMF officials credit increased awareness of officer safety and improved policies, training and equipment—in particular, continued improvements in soft body armor—for the dramatic decline in firearms-related fatalities over the past three decades. But Saturday’s incidents demonstrate that even with safety measures in place, officers face tremendous risks from criminals armed with high-powered weapons.

This was the first multiple-fatality shooting incident of U.S. law enforcement officers in over a year. On February 7, 2008, Officer Thomas Ballman and Sergeant William Biggs Jr., of the Kirkwood (MO) Police Department, were shot and killed by a gunman who had gone on a rampage at the city hall. The last time more than two officers were killed in a single firearms-related incident was September 8, 2007, when Odessa (TX) Police Corporals John Gardner, Arlie Jones and Abel Marquez were gunned down while responding to a domestic disturbance call.

The last time four officers were gunned down in a single incident was February 28, 1993. Four Special Agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) were killed attempting to execute a search warrant at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas: Conway LeBleu, Todd McKeehan, Robert J. Williams and Steven Willis.

One of the most infamous, multiple-fatality shootings occurred almost 40 years ago in Los Angeles County, CA. On April 6, 1970, Four California Highway Patrolmen—George Alleyn, Walt Frago, Roger Gore and James Pence—died in an intense, four-minute gun battle with two heavily-armed suspects. The Newhall Incident, as it became known, reverberated throughout the law enforcement community and led to major reforms in training procedures, firearms use and arrest techniques.

The NLEOMF extends its sympathies to the families of the fallen Oakland PD heroes, their co-workers and the entire Oakland community. The Memorial Fund will be there for them during the immediate aftermath of this tragedy, and the officers’ service and sacrifice will always be remembered.


  1. The Department and Families are in my prayers.

  2. Our hearts of heavy this evening. We have learned that four of our brothers have been loss. Even after retiring we are still all connected. We feel the pain of the Oakland Police Dept. and we pray for them and the families.
    PBSO deputies.

  3. May they rest in peace.

    Just a sad weekend for all of us in the LE family.

  4. As the mother of a police officer in Salinas, CA my heart breaks for the families, friends and fellow officers of these men. We are always aware of the dangers our loved ones face and when something like this happens, whether we know the officers or not, it hits close to home. We all know that but for the grace of God it could be us. There are no words that will make this any easier, so I hope that the families of these brave officers know that they are in the hearts and prayers of every police family in California, here in Nevada and across the country. May you find peace in your time of sorrow.

  5. As a law enfocement officer myself in Jacksonville, Florida, I feel the loss of these 4 heroes. My prayers go out to their families and brothers on the road. When the wicked flee and no man pursueth, only the righteous are as bold as a lion. Thank you for your service.

  6. What would Paul Harvey say right now if he heard about this? He would be weeping for a long time. Paul's dad was a police officer killed in the line of duty, by the way. And none of the national radio talk show hosts dared talk about it. Not even our local KDKA, who just talks about stories 'live and local.' Paul Harvey is weeping now, as his father's peers in Oakland have been murdered. And we must do our best to honor them.

  7. Being in law enforcement and the wife of a police officer I cannot imagine what the families are going through. My thoughts and prayers are with you all. From the Riverside County Sheriff's dept and the Riverside Police Dept. May God watch over the families at home and at the station. Be strong and know that there are alot of people praying for you all.

  8. With deepest sorrow, we pass on our condolences and heart felt sympathy to the families and fellow officers. It is a sad day.

    God Speed.

    Cst Eric Barnes
    Royal Canadian Mounted Police
    Forensic Identification Section
    31-11th Avenue South
    V1C 2N9

  9. As a wife of a Law Enforcement Officer my heart has cried many tears this week. There are no words to describe the amount of pain and sorrow the familes are going through. My prayers and sympathies go out to OPD and all law enforcment families.

  10. As the wife of an Oakland Police Sergeant, I feel I can safely speak for everyone here that this has shaken all of us to the very core. There are no words of comfort for any loss, let alone a loss like this. However, I know there is much comfort given by those, like the commenters here, who took the time and effort to leave positive messages of prayer, hope, and healing for the grieving families, friends, and co-workers here.

    Those of us who belong to the international family of Law Enforcement, should be incredibly proud of the solidarity and support that has been shown in the face of such tragedy. Too often, we hear only harsh and bitter words used in reference to Law Enforcement idividuals.

    We, as family (by blood or by bond) carry a heavy load when our husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces, in-laws, fiancées, boyfriends, girlfriends, and best friends go to work. Their job requires that they selflesly put their life on the line, and as much as we hate that, our pride in them allows us to selflesly support them.

    Be safe and Thank You for the kindness, support and does not go unnoticed.

  11. My Prayers Are with all the Family members as they go though this very hard time.As a nation most of are Hearts are very Heavy.Each one of these Brave Men gave there all so we could have a safe place to live,Now we need to be there for there Familys.There Pain is Great yet if we care for them ,they will be able to see there Love ones did not Die in Vain.

  12. God Bless our fallen heros and their familys.
    Richie Moe

  13. God Bless our Fallen Heros and their Families.

  14. Policeman's Prayer
    The policeman stood and faced his God, which must have always come to pass.

    He hoped his shoes were shining just as brightly as his brass.

    "Step forward now, policeman. How shall I deal with you? Have you always turned the other cheek? To my church have you been true?"

    The policeman squared his shoulders and said, "No, Lord, I guess I ain't, because those of us who carry badges can't always be a saint."

    "I've had to work most Sundays, and at times my talk was rough, and sometimes I've been violent because the streets are awfully tough."

    "But I never took a penny that wasn't mine to keep... Though I worked a lot of overtime when bills got just too steep."

    "And I never passed a cry for help, though at times I shook with fear. And sometimes, God forgive me, I've wept unmanly tears."

    "If you've a place for me here, Lord, it needn't be so grand. I never expected or had too much, but if you don't... I'll understand."

    There was silence all around the throne where the saints had often trod, as the policeman waited quietly for the judgment of his God.

    "Step forward now policeman. You've borne your burdens well. Come walk a beat on Heaven's street. You've done your time in hell."

  15. I express myself best through my videos.
    Please see my tribute video on YouTube
    GShotsTV channel

  16. Santa Ana P.D. would like to express its condulences to the family members of Oakland P.D. and their officers. They will be in our prays.