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A day after Tara O’Sullivan’s death, 56 police officers get badges in emotional ceremony

Sacramento police academy graduation honors the fallen Officer Tara O’Sullivan

The Sacramento Police Department takes a moment of silence during its academy graduation to honor fallen Officer Tara O’Sullivan at Memorial Auditorium on Thursday, June 20, 2019.
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The Sacramento Police Department takes a moment of silence during its academy graduation to honor fallen Officer Tara O’Sullivan at Memorial Auditorium on Thursday, June 20, 2019.

If Officer Tara O’Sullivan’s funeral will take place sometime next week, Thursday’s Sacramento Police Academy graduation felt like a celebration of the last year of her life.

Fifty-six newly commissioned police officers walked the stage at Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, just six months after O’Sullivan did so and a mere 24 hours after she was fatally shot while responding to a domestic violence call in north Sacramento.

O’Sullivan’s life and death hung over the ceremony well beyond the opening moment of silence in her name. In his first public comments since O’Sullivan’s death, Chief Daniel Hahn asked attendees to celebrate the recruits while also remembering the fallen officer. He recalled how O’Sullivan had volunteered to run five miles uphill with the recruits just a few weeks ago, and how she paid the ultimate price for helping a woman in need Wednesday.

“She exemplified courage beyond measure and was an extremely dedicated force for good in our community,” Hahn said. “She chose to stand in the gap between evil, between what tries to tear apart the fabric of what we call community. She chose to be the difference in our community to assist those who were vulnerable and those who alone could not help themselves. She did just that last night.”

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he initially wondered whether the graduation ought to be postponed after O’Sullivan’s shooting. Quickly, though, he determined it ought to go through as planned.

“There is nothing wrong with the conflicting and confusing feelings most of us are feeling this evening,” Steinberg said. “In a most profound sense, this celebration for your great achievement could not be more timely. Our grief and our joy together are wholly consistent.”

Class 19BR-1 was trimmed from 73 to 56 recruits ­– 36 of whom became Sacramento Police Department officers – over the 24-week period, which includes extensive fitness tests as well as community outreach, riot training, target practice and other aspects of police work.

A combined 20 other officers graduated to 10 other departments, including one to the Davis Police Department, where “rising star” Natalie Corona was killed in an ambush similar to O’Sullivan’s earlier this year. Corona’s parents and sisters were in the audience Thursday to see the Officer Natalie Corona Award for hard work and moral fortuity presented to Vacaville Police Department Officer Megan King. Sgt. Brent Kaneyuki presented the Corona family with a $7,500 check raised by Class 19BR-1 through T-shirt sales.

“In the beginning we were told by Cpl. (Ralph) Knecht that we were going to earn every grade of metal on that badge,” said new Officer Thom Panen. “Every step we ran on Patrol Road, every burpee that we did, every round we fired and every page we turned, we added to the metal on that badge.”

But the loudest cheers went to 11-year-old Miller Greenfield, who connected with SPD through the Make-A-Wish Foundation earlier this year. Greenfield was diagnosed with the rare degenerative disease dystonia-deafness syndrome after suffering a stroke at four years old, and accepted his honorary officer’s badge from a wheelchair Thursday night.

Cadets were there for Recruit No. 45 when he had to stay in a Roseville hospital, Hahn said. They recorded inspirational messages for him before he went into surgery. They welcomed him home upon return from a stay in a San Francisco medical center.

They did what O’Sullivan would have done, Hahn said.

“I know many if not all of us in this room tonight – family, friends, those of us in uniform – are asking ourselves why. I know myself and most of us in this room are wondering if it’s still worth it. Many have wondered if it’s worth it for a long time. ... I know some family and friends are hoping their loved ones change their mind and switch career paths or never start in the first place,” Hahn said.

“Many questions, but very few answers. We might never find the answers to all those questions. But I do some things. I do know some answers. And I know some guarantees. I know that a police officer holds a special role in our society. ...

“I know society would break down without the police officer. I know we must all come together to make a better tomorrow. And I know the graduates on stage tonight have what it takes to be that special person that is selfless enough to serve others no matter what, because they will become police officers tonight.”

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Benjy Egel covers local restaurants and bars for The Sacramento Bee as well as general breaking news and investigative projects. A Sacramento native, he previously covered business for the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.
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