Sacramento police chief vows to change policies to avoid another Stephon Clark-like shooting

Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn told the City Council on Tuesday that "our community is crying out for change" following the shooting death of an unarmed black man in Meadowview last month at the hands of two of his officers.

The meeting began with Stephon Clark’s brother helping to lead a packed City Council Chambers in prayer. There were tense moments – one protester was removed from the City Council Chambers by police – but the hearing was peaceful.

Hahn vowed that his department would make the policy changes necessary to ensure “tragic situations like what happened March 18 don’t happen again.”

“I see a department and a City Council brave enough to say we can do better and willing to do the hard work to get there,” Hahn said.

Clark was shot March 18 by officers pursuing a man suspected of breaking car windows. Officers said they thought Clark had a gun when they fired 20 shots, but Clark was found with only his cellphone. He was killed in a backyard later determined to be his grandparents' house.

Hahn, who grew up in Oak Park and is the city’s first black police chief, spoke quietly with Clark’s brother, Stevante, before the meeting began. Clark placed his arm around Hahn’s shoulder, then invited him to join a small group of pastors at the front of the room for a prayer. As the pastors spoke, Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the members of the City Council held hands and bowed their heads.

Nearly two hours into the hearing, Stevante Clark walked into the chambers and sat in a chair next to a podium where Hahn was addressing the City Council. He put his feet up on a desk, but then moved to a seat in the audience. Addressing the council a few minutes later, Clark urged the media to stop showing police video footage of his brother being shot and killed.

Two weeks ago, Stevante Clark leaped onto the council dais and onto the lectern. He told Steinberg several times to shut up as the mayor shouted his name to get his attention, and the meeting soon after ended early. Clark apologized later to Steinberg.

The meeting was designed as an information-gathering session for the City Council. Members urged Hahn to assign officers to longer rotations in low-income neighborhoods to make greater connections with those communities, suggested dedicating more hours to training officers on deescalation and indicated they would like the department to develop a policy on foot pursuits.

Steinberg urged Hahn to “lay out a strategic plan for how we get back to genuine neighborhood policing.” He recalled his time on the City Council in the 1990s, when officers got out of patrol cars more often and “there was a greater sense of identification between our police force and our community.”

“We don’t have that anymore,” the mayor said.

Steinberg acknowledged neighborhood-based policing requires additional resources. The mayor is expected to lead a ballot measure campaign this fall to extend – or raise – an expiring sales tax that is currently funding core city services, including police. Investing in low-income neighborhoods like Meadowview is also expected to be a centerpiece of the sales tax campaign.

“We don’t have what you (the chief) aspire to and what we all aspire to in the city,” the mayor said.

Council members told stories about the unfair treatment black communities face from police. Councilmen Allen Warren and Larry Carr, who are both black, spoke about those experiences.

“There’s not a black person who I’ve met who didn’t have a story (about a bad experience with police),” said Carr, who represents Meadowview. “Other communities don’t have that experience and we have to find a way to move beyond that.”

“I’ve personally received a number of calls from people who are concerned, they’re fearful,” Warren added. “There is some feeling of uncertainty in some of the communities I represent of how people are being policed.”

Many members of the City Council also spoke about the inequities that Sacramento’s low-income neighborhoods face.

“At the root of this tragedy is long-term, systemic oppression and poverty and communities lacking in educational and economic opportunities,” said Councilwoman Angelique Ashby. “We need to do more and we need to do better.”

Steinberg said Hahn must lead “in making reform and changes” and that no pursuit policies should be changed by elected officials. The mayor said Hahn would report back to the City Council “every several weeks” with updates on the police department policy reviews. The mayor said he has told Hahn not to “sacrifice thoroughness for expediency, but to move as fast as you can.”

One policy is already under review and has been changed.

Last week, Hahn sent an email to the department’s rank and file ordering them to keep their cameras and microphones on at all times during incidents, with limited exceptions.

Moments after the shooting, the officers who shot Clark muted the microphones on their body cameras. That decision angered many activists. Warren has asked for an ordinance that would bring disciplinary action against officers who improperly mute their mikes in the future.

“We need to continue to find ways to improve the well-being of our community and ensure that tragic situations like what happened March 18 don't happen again,” Hahn said.

Hahn said the state attorney general’s office is providing an independent review of the police department’s use-of-force policies. The department also has an internal committee exploring its use-of-force policy.

Listen to Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn

Hahn discusses the aftermath of the Stephon Clark police shooting on McClatchy’s “Majority Minority” podcast.
Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis
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