Detective Tommy De La Rosa
Date of Birth: May 12, 1947
Date Appointed: September 16, 1980
End of Watch: June 21, 1990
In ways planned and spontaneous, formal and casual, more than 5,000 people said goodbye to one of Orange County’s favorite police officers.
Tommy De La Rosa, 43, was shot and killed June 21, 1990, by suspected drug dealers, during an undercover drug sting.
When De La Rosa turned down a dead-end street in Downey, at the direction of a drug suspect, little did the undercover Fullerton police officer know that it would cost him his life. As he arrived at the residence and followed the suspect up the driveway, four gunmen opened fire, mortally wounding De La Rosa. Even in this condition, he was able to return fire, fatally wounding Joseph Najera Rodriguez, the man who had directed De La Rosa to the residence in the 8900 block of Arrington Avenue.
De La Rosa had gone to the location as part of a reverse sting, in which he was posing as a drug dealer, and had arranged to sell $4 million dollars worth of cocaine to Rodriguez and his friends. De La Rosa carried a combination of cocaine and a non-narcotic substance that was intended to look like the 200 kilograms of cocaine he was offering to sell. The suspects had promised to exchange the money for the drugs, but apparently had no intention of paying. Instead, they arranged to rob De La Rosa, apparently not realizing that he was an undercover police officer.
On June 27, 1990, more that 5,000 fellow police officers and their families turned out from all across Southern California to say goodbye to De La Rosa. At the memorial service, a squadron of 140 motorcycle officers led an hour-long procession First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, to Memory Garden Memorial Park in Brea, where the 43-year-old officer was laid to rest.
The memorial service included a 21-gun salute, and a bugler playing taps as a fleet of six Orange County police helicopters approached in the “missing man formation” commemorating a fallen comrade-in-arms.
This was a fitting tribute to a man eulogized as, “The best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be”. De La Rosa was remembered his big heart and his desire to break the cycle of drugs. On his days off, Tommy would drive through neighborhoods heavy with drugs, gangs and crime, reaching out to the kids. He would urge them to be good and stay in school then use his own money to buy them ice cream and candy.