Natomas residents ranked accountability and training as priorities for their Police Department and said the city’s next police chief should have a record of transparency and a demonstrated ability to interact effectively with the community.
About 50 people gathered Thursday evening at the South Natomas Community Center for the first of four city-sponsored community forums to discuss what attributes and qualities residents want in the next police chief and the framework for the Officer Next Door program. The final two meetings are scheduled for Saturday at the Oak Park Community Center and at Genesis Baptist Church on Meadowview Road.
The meetings are part of the City Council’s effort to examine use-of-force policies after two officers in July shot Joseph Mann, a mentally ill man who was armed with a knife and acting erratically in North Sacramento. Before shooting Mann, the officers attempted to hit him with their patrol car, based on dashcam footage released by the Sacramento Police Department. Other officers who responded minutes before had attempted to de-escalate the situation by asking Mann to drop his knife as they followed him in their police car.
Faced with anger over police tactics in minority neighborhoods and low morale within the Police Department, Chief Sam Somers Jr. announced in September that he would retire. An interim chief has been appointed and the recruitment process for a new chief has begun.
City officials said public comment received during the community forums will assist in selecting a new chief and setting priorities for the Police Department.
“We’re asking you to be vocal,” Councilwoman Angelique Ashby told those participating in the Natomas forum. “We need you, the city needs you.”
Jackie Boor and Carol Wright, facilitators with Lang and Associates, guided participants through group discussions and priority-setting activities.
Participants were divided into groups to discuss the framework for the Officer Next Door program, which is intended to increase training, diversity, accountability and community engagement for police. Each group was asked to identify which of those four “pillars” of the program they considered most important. Accountability and training came out on top.
Training is important, people said, to make sure police know what is expected of them before they are hired and that they understand department procedures once they join the force. They also need to understand the dynamics of the particular neighborhoods they serve and how to deal with people who are mentally ill. Some said the public also needs to be educated about police procedures and how to interact appropriately with officers.
Greater transparency and training are needed to hold police accountable and reduce the use of lethal force, forum participants said. Some suggested police should view the public as customers and aim for customer satisfaction.
As for the next police chief, people said they want someone with integrity, who knows the community and who can communicate effectively with the public. Some said they would like a “change-maker,” someone who is community oriented, open to community oversight and review, and comfortable with diversity in the community and the police force.
They also said the chief should be a role model for officers, supporting them but also holding them accountable.
Councilman Larry Carr commended forum participants for their efforts, contrasting the tenor of Thursday’s discussion with that between council members and protesters at recent council meetings.
“This demonstrates that we can have meaningful conversation without all the rancor,” he said.
Community Public Safety Best Practices forums
▪ 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Oak Park Community Center, 3425 Martin Lurther King Jr. Blvd.
▪ 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Genesis Baptist Church, 2801 Meadowview Road