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Domestic disturbance calls are among most dangerous for police officers

Some of the most dangerous calls law enforcement responds to are reports of domestic violence. ABC10 talks with a local expert about why that is the case.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The events leading up to the fatal shooting of Sacramento Police Officer Tara O'Sullivan all began with a domestic disturbance call.

A woman involved in a domestic disturbance earlier in the day wanted to return home to gather some of her belongings. O’Sullivan was escorting her when a man with a firearm at that home started shooting – and fatally struck the officer.

Experts said that's one of the most dangerous situations for a police officer.

Julie Bornhoeft is chief strategy and sustainability officer at WEAVE, a Sacramento-based non-profit organization and the primary provider of crisis intervention services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Sacramento County.


"There's always concern for both the victim and when law enforcement's responding because we know how volatile domestic violence relationships can be,” Bornhoeft told ABC10 News.

Domestic violence incidents are among the most dangerous calls police respond to, because those relationships are based on the abuser maintaining power and control over his or her victim, according to Bornhoeft.

“When that victim takes those steps to leave, that's shifting that power structure,” Bornhoeft said, meaning that “even people without a history of violence may escalate in a very unpredictable way, and we know there's an uncertainty, a volatility.”

She said law enforcement officers train for those kinds of unpredictably dangerous situations, including the one that resulted in the fatal shooting of Officer O’Sullivan Wednesday evening.


“Part of the safety planning, is understanding, 'Are there firearms in the home?'” Bornhoeft said. “Firearms with people with a history of violence against their partners is a bad combination, and we see it over and over.”

While she doesn’t know the details of what happened once police entered that home on Wednesday, she said sometimes even the best planning doesn’t always work.

“You can take every step available to you, but in the end, you're not in control of someone else's actions and what they choose to do,” she said. “Many of the cases it’s someone goes in, they get their things, they leave, and in other cases you have these worst possible outcomes.”

In Wednesday’s case, she said, “officers went to support someone to keep her safe and to help her be safe, and someone else took action that made that impossible.”

WEAVE's 24/7 Support & Information Line: 916-920-2952 

Counseling and Service Locations:

WEAVE Midtown Counseling Center
1900 K Street
Sacramento, CA 95811
Phone: 916-448-2321

WEAVEWorks Recycled Fashion
2401 Arden Way
Sacramento, CA 95825
Phone: 916-643-4606

Other 24/7 Support Lines:
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233
National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673

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WATCH MORE: Why domestic disturbance calls are dangerous for police officers | EXTENDED INTERVIEW

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