Sacramento City Councilman Larry Carr on Tuesday night proposed a new policy that could impose greater restrictions on police use of deadly force – a move recently promised by city leaders in response to Sacramento officers’ fatal shooting of a mentally-ill man in North Sacramento in July and other police shootings across the nation.
The 12-point proposal would act as a set of guiding principles for the city manager and police chief to implement through training and departmental policy and procedures, said Crystal Strait, chief of staff to Mayor Kevin Johnson.
It would instruct the city manager to ensure that police “are authorized to use deadly force only when there is an imminent threat to life, and such force is strictly unavoidable to protect life.” It also would require the city to immediately release video of officer-involved shootings after first allowing the victim’s family access, but only if the release did not “hamper” an investigation.
Council members will not debate the proposal until Oct. 13. Carr said the proposal was “intended as an initial public discussion” and would be amended to include public comments and council input in coming weeks.
City leaders have been under pressure over officer-involved shootings, particularly since the fatal July shooting of Joseph Mann, a mentally ill man who was behaving erratically while armed with a knife. Mann’s family sued the city and spent weeks calling for answers about how he died.
Amid the controversy earlier this month, Police Chief Sam Somers Jr. announced his retirement after nearly 33 years with the department.
Then last Tuesday, The Sacramento Bee released surveillance video showing Mann running from police and turning to gesture at two officers in the moments before he was shot. The Sacramento Police Department, which had for weeks refused to make any footage public, quickly convened a news conference and released the surveillance video along with additional police dashboard camera videos.
After viewing the footage, the mayor and other council members said they would propose a set of police oversight reforms in the coming days and created a subcommittee to draft policy.
Carr, who represents south Sacramento neighborhoods, has pushed for greater accountability measures. Last week, he took a delegation of community members to Berkeley to learn about its police commission. A policy for changing the powers of Sacramento’s Community Police Commission is expected in coming weeks.
Among other things, Carr’s proposed policy would require that police “use the minimum force necessary to apprehend a subject.” It would direct the department to develop “specific guidelines for the type of force and the tools authorized for a given level of resistance.”
Officers would also routinely carry nonlethal weapons under the proposal. Currently, patrol officers do not generally carry nonlethal weapons, such as rubber bullets. They must request the tools from watch commanders or supervisors during incidents in which they could be useful.
The proposed policy would also require that police receive training in how to de-escalate potentially deadly encounters with suspects, including the mentally ill. Sacramento police currently receive state-mandated training in de-escalation, according to department spokesman Bryce Heinlein. He said Sacramento officers receive additional training beyond state requirements.
The department would be required to provide a twice-yearly report on implementation of the new policy and its results to the City Council.
The principles laid out in the draft mirror policy recommendations from organizations including Campaign Zero, a policy offshoot of the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Campaign Zero this month released a report analyzing the effectiveness of eight policy-based use of force directives, seven of which are included in the Sacramento proposal. That report examined use-of-force policies in 91 of the 100 largest cities in America. It found significant drops in officer-involved shootings in cities that adopted even one of the recommendations and greater drops for cities that have four or more of the policies in place.
“The policies are important to restrict how and when police officers use force,” said Sam Sinyangwe, co-founder of Campaign Zero. “Each of those police policies was related to lower rates of police shootings and killings.”
The report also found fewer officer fatalities in cities that adopted the policies, Sinyangewe said.
Cities that required officers to “exhaust all other means” before shooting saw a 25 percent drop in police killings per capita, according to the Campain Zero study. Cities that mandated the use of de-escalation techniques had a 15 percent reduction in police killings per capita, it said.
Sinyangewe said adopting a city ordinance was a first step to police reforms. “It’s important to recognize that the policies themselves are … insufficient without effective implementation, and that requires strong leadership.”
The proposal was not immediately available to the public except briefly via the council chamber video screens during its introduction because it was presented as a verbal report by Carr. It will be posted Wednesday on the city’s website, according to the city clerk.