COMMENTARY : Ex-Partner of ‘Best Narc’: Don’t Let His Sacrifice Be in Vain

<i> Joe Klein is a sergeant in the Fullerton Police Department and De La Rosa's former partner</i>

“I want to be the best narc in Orange County,” Fullerton Police Narcotic Detective Tommy De La Rosa said in April, 1986, when he joined the Orange County Narcotic Officers Assn.

For the next four years, De La Rosa unleashed a relentless attack on the narcotics violator, utilizing his exceptional undercover skills to arrest more than 1,000 offenders, and to seize millions of dollars worth of narcotics and illegally obtained assets.

De La Rosa always wanted to be a narcotic detective. In 1986, his career dream came true when he became a narcotics investigator. He brought to the unit a special magic that formed a bond between partners that could not be broken--even by death.


With De La Rosa’s investigative talents, his obsession with being the best and his love for his partners, he helped transform the Fullerton Police Department Narcotic Bureau into a highly successful major unit.

De La Rosa was highly recognized and respected for his undercover talents. He specialized in negotiating large cocaine transactions with Colombian, Cuban and Mexican traffickers. Law enforcement agencies from all over the region would rely on De La Rosa to do their undercover work. His motto was, “I buy drugs, that’s what I do!”

De La Rosa’s expertise was recognized throughout the criminal justice system. He was awarded numerous commendations and citations from other law enforcement agencies, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike. In 1989, he was further recognized for his service to the community by being selected as the “Outstanding Latino Peace Officer of the Year.”

De La Rosa was a courageous and ferocious soldier on the battlefield against drugs. He fought this battle right up to the last minute of his life.

On June 21, he was fatally wounded during an undercover narcotic transaction in Downey. The transaction was to be the culmination of a two-week investigation into a major cocaine trafficking organization operating out of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

In a “reverse sting” operation involving 30 officers from the Fullerton, Anaheim, La Habra, Brea and Cypress police departments, De La Rosa was supposed to deliver 200 kilos of cocaine in exchange for $4 million in cash. Instead, he was fired upon by five people who were lying in wait for him.


Despite being shot five times, with two bullets fired at point-blank range hitting him in the back, De La Rosa returned fire, killing one assailant. Heroic medical efforts couldn’t save De La Rosa. He was killed when a bullet entered the side of his chest and pierced his heart.

De La Rosa made the supreme sacrifice in the war on drugs. He left behind a beautiful wife, three precious daughters, the youngest only 18 months old, and a group of partners who loved him as a brother. He was a hero and the bravest man that I have known.

De La Rosa’s death saddens me, but it also angers me. In this day of drug czars, the use of the military in interdiction efforts and the emphasis on large regional narcotic task forces, the role of the individual narcotic investigator is often minimized. While politicians are declaring war on drugs and law enforcement executives are posing in front of large drug and cash seizures, it is the nameless and faceless “narc,” living his life on the street, who is marching into battle against insurmountable odds, fighting--and dying--for a cause he believes in. That cause is a drug-free society.

De La Rosa’s death angers me because of the complacency of the American public to take a stand against narcotics in the community. This is not just a problem that can be solved in Washington; it must be addressed in our own neighborhoods.

If the American public has declared war on drugs, then why is marijuana one of the top cash crops of California, and the entire country for that matter? Why is Southern California the country’s largest producer of methamphetamine? Why is it that you can walk into any neighborhood liquor store or convenience market and purchase narcotic use and sales paraphernalia right over the counter?

De La Rosa’s death angers me because the American public has allowed fanatic civil libertarians and greedy criminal defense attorneys to cloud the issues of innocence or guilt, to hold the rights of the criminal in higher regard than the rights of the victim or society as a whole, and to bring the wheels of the criminal justice system to a near halt.


De La Rosa’s death angers me because Americans are unwilling to take action to relieve overcrowded courts and jails that result in narcotic offenders being routinely released back into the community.

Despite a long trail of human misery, violence and death, drug dealers are often given lenient sentences and early jail releases. In Orange County, the average sentence for multiple street-level sales of narcotics (heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine) to an undercover officer is 60 to 90 days in County Jail. But in actuality, a drug dealer sentenced to 90 days in jail will only serve about 48 days. One can only wonder where the war on drugs is being fought!

De La Rosa’s death angers me because Americans have stood by, heads buried in the sand, thinking the narcotic problem was not ours. It has been easy to point our finger at other countries. It has been easy to blame the problem on gangs. It has been easy to ignore individual responsibility. But the problem is ours and it impacts every individual and institution in the country.

De La Rosa’s death angers me because of the hypocrisy that exists in our society. If you are one of those who heard of De La Rosa’s death, shook your head and said, “Gee, that’s really too bad,” then rolled a marijuana cigarette to help you relax, or did a line of coke or speed just to help you get through the day, consider yourself the cause of his death.

While you sleep in comfort tonight, secure behind locked doors, please remember Tommy De La Rosa, and the thousands of dedicated peace officers across this country, who are out on the streets willing to die for you each and every day. When somebody kills a police officer, he kills a piece of America.

Tommy De La Rosa, born May 12, 1947, died June 21, 1990; executed by drug dealers. God bless him. He was the best there is, the best there has ever been and the best there will ever be. May he be at peace.