The Public Eye

‘Change is hard,’ says Sacramento police chief, but slowly, it’s happening

Watch Sacramento police get down with residents in celebration of new Chief Daniel Hahn

After Sacramento's new police chief was sworn in on August 11, 2017, police officers and community members headed to McClatchy Park in Sacramento to celebrate the new chief.
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After Sacramento's new police chief was sworn in on August 11, 2017, police officers and community members headed to McClatchy Park in Sacramento to celebrate the new chief.

On the night last October when the Sacramento City Council discussed police use-of-force policies, protesters angry over the fatal shooting of a black man by officers in north Sacramento took over the meeting with loud demands for reforms, prompting council members to flee to a back hallway for an impromptu recess.

“The power of the people is what you are watching,” Jay King, a radio talk show host and activist, told the packed room as the elected officials left.

The moment marked a peak in community outrage over not just the shooting of Joseph Mann, but also over what many called systemic bias in the policing of Sacramento communities of color. Police morale and community trust were at rock bottom, while frustration on all sides was formidable.

A year later, King and other activists say the reforms passed by City Council last December and the subsequent hiring of the city’s first African American police chief have dramatically changed how they feel about the department, even if distrust remains on the streets.

“We’ve made great strides,” King said. “(Chief) Daniel Hahn is a straight up-and-down transparent, real-time police chief and that’s what we need today.”

With the announcement last week that both officers involved in the Mann incident in July 2016 are no longer on the force, one of the most high-profile officer involved shootings in Sacramento is largely resolved – though a report from an independent investigator hired by the city remains outstanding and the Mann family has an ongoing civil lawsuit.

Within communities of color and across the city, a tenuous calm has settled between cops and neighborhoods. But whether it will hold remains uncertain, even to Hahn, who is widely credited with bridging the divide between the people and the police.

“It’s still in a honeymoon period,” said Hahn. “That could all go away tomorrow.”

Hahn said his goal is “to get to the point in the relatively near future that regardless of what neighborhood you go into in Sacramento you don’t see a difference,” in how police interact with people.

“We can’t just keep going along with minor fixes, little along the edges fixes,” he said. “Change is hard.”

King and others say despite Hahn’s popularity, there are still changes needed in the police department.

“Is it a great step to have an African American police chief that knows the community, I’ll give you that,” said Berry Accius, a community activist in south Sacramento. “Is he more engaged with the community? He is. But at the same time … I believe it’s also a Band-Aid for cancer. The policing in the community is terminally ill. There is a lot more that needs to be done.”

A new report from the city’s Office of Public Safety Accountability shows tensions remain. Complaints against Sacramento police officers increased 63 percent from 110 citizen allegations in 2015 to 180 last year. So far in 2017, there have been 137 complaints against officers.

Internal Affairs detectives have investigated 56 of those complaints in the 18 months from January 2016 to June 2017 and substantiated allegations in 34 cases, imposing discipline on 15 officers. Seventeen internal affairs investigations remain open, according to OPSA head Francine Tournour.

By state law, details of those cases are confidential.

Accius said that he continues to see racial profiling and bias in how police interact with people in neighborhoods like Meadowview. He cites the city’s so-called “bait bike” program as an example. Police leave expensive bikes with values that make stealing them a felony in locations that Accius said are targeting people of color.

“Having a bait bike in front of a community center … what is that telling the community, what is that telling the people? It’s still going to be policed exactly the same way,” he said. “I think right now we can say we’ve just changed chiefs, because we haven’t been in a moment where the change in culture has been challenged. And I think that’s a piece of where we go from here.”

A recent Sacramento Bee investigation also found that black men are pulled over more frequently by police while driving, though the reasons are unclear.

Robert Mann, the younger brother of Joseph Mann, agreed that “there is still a problem. There are still officers that have the same mindset (as those that shot Joseph Mann) on the force.”

Mayor Darrell Steinberg said reforms such as a policy to release video in critical police incidents within thirty days have increased public access to information and added to the transparency and accountability that activists wanted.

That policy faced its first test earlier this year when interim police chief Brian Louie angered the City Council by failing to release footage of a shooting between officers and parolee Armani Lee in north Sacramento. Council members chastised Louie and demanded adherence to the new rule.

“We didn’t flinch on continuing to insist on transparency,” said Steinberg, who pointed out that video release has now become common even when not required by the ordinance.

Hahn said in his two months on the job, he has already made changes that put the force “in a better place than we were before,” especially when it comes to dealing with non-compliant suspects who may have mental health issues or be on drugs.

Officers have had crisis in tervention and de-escalation training this year and now have immediate access to a variety of non-lethal weapons, said Hahn. The department is in the process of making sure every patrol officer carries a bean bag shotgun and that every patrol team has ballistic shields, weapons that shoot non-lethal rounds that “basically knock you down,” and pepper ball guns.

“Everyday in our city somebody is handling something like a Joseph Mann situation and they are only going to get more,” said Hahn. “My goal is the next Joseph Mann is alive the next day to be able to deal with whatever is causing his crisis, and his family still has him.”

Hahn has also reinstated the practice of having community members serve on promotion boards for officers. On the city front, a new police commission with slightly broader powers has met twice.

“It’s still a little too early (to tell), but we feel with the police chief and the officers that the community highly respects, this is the time for change, this is a historical opportunity,” said Basim Elkarra, the commission chair.

Hahn is trying to build trust with the community at the same time that his department faces a surge in gang violence in such neighborhoods as south Sacramento and Oak Park.

In a three-month period from July to September, there were seven firearm-related homicides in the city and eight in the unincorporated county. Four of the city incidents involved victims under the age of 21, all people of color, according to Khaalid Muttaqi, head of the city’s gang prevention and intervention task force.

Firearms were used in 280 assaults last year, a 12 percent increase over 2015.

There is growing consternation about that gun violence. In many neighborhoods, it is a conversation that eclipses other concerns.

“We’ve all kind of had our hands to the plow ... the last couple months dealing with gun violence,” said Les Simmons, a south Sacramento pastor who often is asked to respond to shooting sites to aid victims. Last year, he was involved in police reforms.

In August, the City Council voted 9-0 to enter a $1.5 million contract with a pilot project called Advance Peace. The intervention and mentoring program would target about 50 young men, mostly black and Latino, who are thought by police and city leaders to be responsible for most gun violence in the city, especially gang-related crimes.

Pioneered in Richmond, the program is credited by city leaders there for significantly reducing gun crime, but has been criticized for giving cash stipends to participants for reaching goals such as earning a high school diploma.

The implementation of Advance Peace in Sacramento has stalled out since that City Council vote.

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby expressed a list of concerns with the agreement during the August meeting, saying the proposal was “sorely lacking (in details) and in my opinion leaves the city of Sacramento completely vulnerable to being taken advantage of.”

City staff have been working on the contract since but have not finalized it, according to Assistant City manager Arturo Sanchez.

“There have been multiple shootings, multiple homicides, and I think we are at a place where we can’t have any more delays getting this contract signed and getting Advance Peace,” said Simmons. “I am feeling a sense of urgency that this needs to happen.”

Simmons said he believed the program is a key part of police and communities working together.

Steinberg said he still strongly backs the program.

“There’s always a wrinkle here and a wrinkle there and it sometimes takes longer than I wish,” Steinberg said. “I want to get this started as quickly as possible so it’s going to happen.”

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

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