Major Sabrina Tapp-Harper’s Story

Disarm Domestic Violence
4 min readMay 31, 2018

Abusers with firearms pose a unique danger to their victims, their communities, and to law enforcement officers, as domestic violence calls are the most dangerous for responding officers. The research is clear : domestic abusers should not have access to firearms, and retrieving firearms from people who are prohibited from possessing them — whether by court order, state, or federal law — saves lives. That’s where my fellow officers and I get to work.

Baltimore is proud to be at the forefront of a growing movement to protect victims and survivors of domestic violence by improving enforcement of protective orders — specifically by disarming domestic abusers in accordance with court orders and state law. In 2014, under the leadership of Sheriff John W. Anderson, the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office restructured its Domestic Violence Unit to implement best practices in victim-centered protective order enforcement.

We work closely with victims throughout the process, starting with an interview immediately after a temporary protective order is issued, and connect them with a local domestic violence program. Based on the results of our interviews, we are able to locate the respondent to serve the order and to retrieve any firearms the respondent possesses in violation of a court order or state law.

Under Sheriff Anderson’s leadership, our program has been a resounding success. The service rate of protective orders increased by over 400%, and more than 65 firearms are retrieved by prohibited respondents annually. Furthermore, through this process, we arrest approximately 400 fugitives from justice annually.

One recovery case in particular stands out in my mind. We had a victim of domestic violence who made the choice to apply for a protective order, and during the course of the interview she told us her partner had a semi-automatic weapon he’d used to threaten her. We didn’t stop looking for that firearm until we found it — buried underground for over a decade. In 2015, thanks to our dedication, we were awarded the Governor’s Award for Victim Service for our unwavering commitment to victim safety and to the dignified treatment of all victims.

We are also committed to ensuring the due process rights of the respondent are protected, and we provide for the safe storage and return of firearms when a protective order expires. We submit all firearms we recover to the Evidence Control Unit of the Baltimore City Police Department under a property number. When the person is no longer prohibited from possessing firearms, such as when a protective order expires or a conviction record is expunged, we release the firearms back to the person after running a background check to ensure the person is not prohibited for other reasons.

Above all, our mission is to protect victims and survivors from homicide and abuse. A woman is killed by an abuser with a firearm every sixteen hours, and 4.5 million American women alive today have been threatened by an abuser with a firearm. We are proud to be working to disarm domestic violence in our community.

Sabrina V. Tapp-Harper is a native of Baltimore and graduate of Paul Laurence Dunbar Community Senior High School. Major Tapp-Harper holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Coppin State University and a Master of Science Degree in Applied Behavioral Science from Johns Hopkins University. Major Tapp-Harper was a guest at the White House (during President Obama’s administration) concerning the Violence Against Women Act, and was part of the panel with Attorney General Loretta Lynch during the rollout of the guidance on Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias in Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. She was a Research Fellow at the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 2008 and worked on publications related to Returning Combat Veterans, In-Custody Deaths related to Electro-muscular interruption Devices (NIJ), Restoring Trust-Internal Affairs, and she published an article in Police Chief Magazine entitled “Lojacks for Laptops.”

From 2005–2008, Major Tapp-Harper was assigned by the Baltimore Police Commissioner to serve as a liaison and provide needed leadership to the Baltimore School Police Force. Major Tapp-Harper retired from the Baltimore Police Department, at the rank of Major, after serving in that agency for 26 years. While with the Baltimore Police Department, Major Tapp-Harper worked in the Internal Affairs Division, Education and Training Division, and Public Affairs Division. She also commanded the Special Investigations Section, and served as Commanding Officer of Northern Police District; Major Tapp-Harper worked in 5 of the 9 Police Districts in Baltimore.

Major Tapp-Harper currently commands the Domestic Violence Unit of the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office, where she oversees the service of protective orders. Major Tapp-Harper also oversees in-service training, and provides
training on Use of Force and Ethics for the Sheriff’s Office. Major Tapp-Harper was an adjunct professor for the Community College of Baltimore for 16 years where she taught several criminal justice courses, such as Introduction to Criminal Justice, Juvenile Delinquency, and Criminal Investigations.



Disarm Domestic Violence

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