In 1998, I was hired as a Sacramento police officer. During my six months in the Academy, I attended the funerals of two law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty. On December 8, 1998, Sacramento Deputy Sandra Larson was killed in a traffic collision while transporting prisoners. Even though I was only two months into the Academy, I can still remember the gravity that her death brought to me. It opened my eyes to the reality that law enforcement officers are not invincible, and in my chosen occupation there was a real possibility that one day I might not return home from my shift.
It was just three months later, as I was completing the last weeks of the Academy, that the Sacramento Police Department lost Officer Bill Bean when he was shot and killed while conducting a traffic stop in North Sacramento. I never met Officer Bean, but I remember the shock and strong emotions that I felt as we grieved the loss of a member of our police department family.
I was sworn in as a Sacramento police officer on March 5, 1999, and was assigned to work with my first FTO in the same neighborhood in North Sacramento where Officer Bean had been murdered. I remember my FTO pointing out the location where Officer Bean was killed, as well as the location where Sacramento Officer Emily Morgenroth had been struck and killed by a drunk driver in October 1997. The lives of these three officers, none of whom I had ever met, touched my life. They affected my career. I knew that they gave their lives in protection of Sacramento, the city where I had grown up and taken the same oath to protect as they had. I wanted to honor their memories by doing my job to the best of my abilities.
For 20 years after the murder of Officer Bean, the Sacramento Police Department did not see a line-of-duty death. During the same period, I watched as nine of my brothers at the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department lost their lives protecting our community. It didn’t make any sense to me why they had experienced such tragedy while we had avoided it for my entire career.
On the evening of June 19, 2019, I was with my wife when I received a phone call that we had an “officer down” in North Sacramento. My son, who is also a Sacramento police officer, was just finishing his field training and was assigned to work evenings in North Sacramento. As the call was still developing, I did not know who the officer was. My thoughts immediately went to my son and his safety. My wife began to panic, but quickly got ahold of our son and determined that he was safe. It was the longest 90 seconds of our lives. My initial relief soon turned to guilt as I realized that my son’s safety just meant another family’s grief. That evening, Officer Tara O’Sullivan was murdered while assisting a domestic violence victim retrieving some personal property. It was a senseless murder and a horrible tragedy.
While I had met Officer O’Sullivan a few times, I did not truly know her. I had taught her Academy class for two days the previous November as we covered the topics of traffic and DUI enforcement. I met her again at her Academy graduation and then again when we signed up the new graduates for the Association. I wish I had known her better. I have learned over the past month how amazing a woman she was and how many lives she touched. I have heard countless people tell stories about Officer O’Sullivan, and I am inspired by the number of lives one person with a good heart can touch.
I have witnessed an outpouring of support from our community toward Officer O’Sullivan’s family and our law enforcement community. Following an emotional and touching funeral, I took part in an hour-long precession from Roseville, through Sacramento and into Elk Grove. What I saw brought me to tears: The streets were lined with men, women and children, all holding signs and waving flags, supporting their law enforcement officers. The experience reminded me that the majority of our community appreciates what we do. Five simple words spoken by children along the procession route, “Thank you for your service,” had a profound impact on me that day.
As I told a large gathering at Officer O’Sullivan’s candlelight vigil, “There is evil in this world.” That evil took her life as well as countless other law enforcement lives throughout this state and our nation. Law enforcement officers are all that stands between the evil and our communities. Unfortunately, Officer O’Sullivan’s life won’t be the last. Ours is a dangerous calling and we never know when we will be called home in the service of our fellow citizens. I know my experiences are not unique. Most officers and departments have similar stories, and I’m sure many of you have experienced your own grief around the loss of an officer you knew or had contact with. I challenge you all to live like Officer O’Sullivan did, a life of service and inspiring others. That way our fallen can live on through us, and their legacy of service can continue to bless the communities they chose to serve.