Sacramento Police Officer Tara O’Sullivan was shot and killed Wednesday afternoon while she was on a domestic violence call. She was just 26 years old.
She was hired as a community service officer in January, 2018, graduated from the police academy and started her service on Dec. 20. She had only been in service for six months. O’Sullivan, a Sacramento State graduate, was a native Californian from the East Bay.
Let’s be clear: There is no greater community service than being a police officer. Period. The risks that anyone who puts on a law enforcement uniform takes are breathtakingly high. The price for protecting and serving our community is sometimes too high, and Officer O’Sullivan paid the ultimate price this week.
Sacramento’s last fatal police officer shooting was in 1999, when Officer William Bean Jr. was shot and killed during a traffic stop. Officer O’Sullivan’s killing also brought back memories of the shooting death of 22-year-old Davis Police Officer Natalie Corona. She was shot in cold blood while investigating an accident scene by an armed man who had no connection to the call.
O’Sullivan was in what any police officer will tell you is one of their most dreaded situations: responding to a domestic violence call. In doing so, officers insert themselves into high-tension, extremely emotional situations where participants and their actions will be unpredictable. Alcohol and drugs can frequently fuel them, and no officers know for sure if the participants are armed or not.
We know that the suspect had a long history of domestic violence charges and convictions dating back to 1995. We also know that Officer O’Sullivan was killed simply for doing her job: protecting our community without regard to the risk.
Sacramento is in profound shock and deep mourning. Mayor Darrell Steinberg said: “To Tara’s parents and family, and Tara’s fellow officers, I am so sorry. As a father I am grieving with you. As mayor of the city she swore to protect, our city is heartbroken and we are here for you every step of the way.”
To their credit, responding Sacramento police officers did their jobs right, too. Their rules of engagement were clear: Do not kill the suspect unless he came out of the house armed. They did not. Furthermore, commanders gave orders that if the suspect was unarmed and fleeing, non-lethal force should only be used.
The community should be proud of these officers for their professionalism and courage in the face of such a dangerous and emotional situation.
Officer O’Sullivan was helping an alleged domestic violence victim remove her belongings from a north Sacramento home. A seemingly mundane task, to be sure, but outwardly mundane tasks can turn deadly in the life of a police officer. We also know that domestic violence affects one in three American women, and if there’s a gun present in a domestic violence situation, the risk of homicide rises 500 percent.
We don’t know the precise circumstances under which Officer O’Sullivan was killed, but we do know this: We live in a society saturated by guns and gun violence. The easy access to guns puts every life in danger, and this is especially true for police officers who must frequently deal with the most dangerous situations imaginable. We can do much better as a society to control access to deadly weapons by violent people who should never have them.
Sacramento, and the nation, mourns Officer Tara O’Sullivan today. She was in the full bloom of youth and idealism. Anyone who risks everything to protect us each day deserves our gratitude. Her sacrifice leaves a big void in our community, and we should think of her and her mourning family and colleagues each day.
A simple thank you isn’t enough for Officer Tara O’Sullivan.
The community service she offered is incalculable. That’s why she was selected to do the job. We asked the unaskable, and her answer was clear.