Daniel Hahn is the police chief Sacramento appears to be getting, but time will tell if he's the police chief that Sacramento needs.
Only a reformer will do, and the path before him is daunting to say the least.
On Wednesday, Hahn, currently the police chief in Roseville, accepted a conditional offer for the job that Sam Somers Jr. hastily left in December after a police shooting of a black man in Del Paso Heights. The case was the beginning of a public relations nightmare that has yet to subside.
Trust in the department is circling the drain in some quarters of the city, weighed down by accusations of racial profiling, questionable shootings of mentally ill black men, and heat from Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the City Council to adopt policies designed to increase accountability and transparency.
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Morale among rank-and-file officers is creeping toward a new low. They complain about low pay compared to cops in the suburbs, and a lack of respect from city leaders and the public.
But Hahn isn’t deterred, confident that change is possible.
“The opportunity to go home, there’s no way I can pass this up,” he told a member of The Bee’s editorial board.
Hahn, 49, grew up in Oak Park, born to a black father and white mother and raised by white adoptive parents. He joined the Sacramento Police Department while in college at age 19, lured by the prospect of making $5 more an hour than he was earning at Florin Mall.
“I thought I was going to be rich or something,” he said.
He had planned to quit the police force after college, but took to the role of helping people, and rose through the ranks for 23 years. His last job with Sacramento was captain of the North Division, where he has maintained friendships and other deep ties. The same is true in his home neighborhood of rapidly gentrifying Oak Park.
Hahn, to his credit, is considered a rare breed of insider and outsider – a friend to many within the department, but also an ally of the black leaders who have been the department’s most vocal critics.
About a year ago, it was Hahn who North Sacramento residents called when police couldn't get potential witnesses to cooperate in the tragic 2015 shooting of Grant High football star J.J. Clavo. Hahn returned to the city, off the clock, and convinced enough people to come forward that police were able to charge Keymontae Lindsey with murder.
Hahn’s challenge will be to maintain that kind of balance so he can walk in both worlds. He can’t be afraid to challenge the police department’s good-old-boy culture. But he also has to do it in a way that convinces officers of the need to change their ways.
Not everyone is confident in the new chief. On Wednesday, the local chapter of Black Lives Matter posted on Facebook: “They think this is going to fix it. They think this will appease us.”
This is all the more reason for Hahn to take the next few months and engage with people across Sacramento – perhaps through public forums in different neighborhoods. Residents didn’t have a chance to pose questions to finalists for police chief. They should at least be able to question Hahn now that the city has selected him.
Open and honest dialogue will help improve relations between the community and Sacramento police. That must start at the top.