Paul Rolleri was a 19-year-old criminal justice student at California State University, East Bay when Alameda Police officer Robert James Davey, Jr. was shot and killed while assisting on a drug raid, on March 3, 1983.
“I remembered being in town that night. I drove down Central Avenue past the house, saw the crime scene tape,” Rolleri recalled, adding that three Alameda police officers attended classes with him at Cal State.
After joining the force himself, Rolleri began taking part in an annual, officer-organized pilgrimage to pay respects at Davey’s Hayward grave. The visits prompted Rolleri to decide that if he ever were in a position to do so, he’d see to the creation of a memorial honoring the sacrifice made by Davey and a second Alameda police officer killed in the line of duty, Deward Burton Gresham.
Fast-forward two decades, and Rolleri – now the department’s interim chief – has made his dreamed-for memorial a reality. The memorial will be unveiled during a public ceremony at police headquarters today.
The city named streets after both Davey and Gresham, who died on July 11, 1942 after colliding with another vehicle while trying to make a traffic stop on his police motorcycle, and a plaque honoring Davey was erected near the harbormaster’s office in Marina Village. But Rolleri said the plaque “is off the beaten path,” and that few know of its existence.
“For them to have died doing their jobs protecting Alameda, I felt they deserved a more significant memorial for that sacrifice,” Rolleri said.
Rolleri got an additional piece of inspiration, he said, during a visit to his brother, Rico, who is a lieutenant for the Berkeley Police Department. He said the department recently erected a monument to its own fallen officers.
“I felt, why can’t we do something like that at our place?” Rolleri said.
Rolleri approached Mayor Marie Gilmore and City Councilwoman Lena Tam with the idea of erecting a memorial to Alameda’s fallen officers, and after gaining their support, he began raising money and working through city approvals for the project. Virtually all of the funding for the roughly $100,000 memorial was provided by private donors (save a small amount of grant money); Catellus and Doric Development, Alameda’s police and fire unions, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and alumni of the department’s citizens academy and Bay Ship & Yacht were major donors.
Gates + Associates and Goring & Straja, the architect that designed the memorial, donated their time and services, Rolleri said.
The memorial sits astride the department’s Oak Street headquarters, an uplit, concrete pad with four granite seat pads where visitors may pause and reflect on bronze busts of the two officers and a pair of grieving angels, along with a quote that echoed from early Roman times onto modern-day police memorials – “In valor there is hope” – etched into the concrete. The project also includes a garden.
The bronze sculptures were created by Lawrence Noble, an artist and sculptor whose work includes police and firefighter memorials, art for television and movie ads, a gold medal for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the Yoda Fountain at the Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Francisco’s Presidio.
“He embraced the project from the get-go,” Rolleri said.
The ceremony begins at 10 a.m. today; police headquarters is at 1555 Oak Street. Davey’s widow, Sue, and the couple’s four children will attend.
“When it was all said and done, it was a labor of love,” Rolleri said. “It’s really for their families. I wanted to create a space where they were properly recognized for the sacrifice they made.”