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Sacramento City Council approves police reforms, but critics aren’t satisfied

Facing a chamber filled with vocal activists, the Sacramento City Council on Tuesday passed a package of police measures that could increase access to videos of officer-involved shootings and revamp a civilian oversight commission criticized as ineffective.

Council members unanimously approved four measures meant to address concerns that escalated after the July police shooting of Joseph Mann, a mentally ill man armed with a knife in North Sacramento.

Community activists called the plan “slightly better” and a “small step” forward but some wanted the council to reject the proposal and provide greater civilian oversight of the Police Department. The Tuesday plan leaves investigations of police misconduct in the hands of the department.

“Having just the police look out for the police is not good enough,” said Lanette Davies of the ACLU of Sacramento.

The city’s Office of Public Safety Accountability currently monitors and reviews internal affairs investigations of police misconduct and reports to the city manager, who also oversees the Police Department. The council voted Tuesday to have the office answer to the City Council instead.

The package also creates a new civilian oversight commission that will have broader powers to examine complaints against police and fire personnel filed directly with the accountability office. The panel cannot access the confidential personnel records of officers, which are protected by state law.

Both the accountability office and new oversight commission have only advisory and review powers; they cannot directly investigate misconduct allegations or impose discipline.

Under the approved ordinance, the director of the accountability office could ask the City Council to issue a subpoena to investigate, but the council would be under no obligation to do so.

Council members praised the plan as a step in the right direction, while promising to examine future changes.

“I think we walk away, none of us feeling purely satisfied we are where we want to be, but we are a whole lot farther along,” said Vice Mayor Rick Jennings, who helped craft the plan. “We have gone as far as we can.”

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said during the meeting that the police officers’ union also opposed the proposal. The union did not respond to requests for comment.

Community critics focused on its lack of civilian investigatory power into allegations of police misconduct.

Mayor Kevin Johnson encouraged activists to pursue a ballot initiative for 2018 if they want greater civilian oversight than is currently allowable under city rules.

“If you are not satisfied with the pace we are moving, you can do it yourself. That's the beauty of this dynamic,” Johnson said.

The new measures require the Police Department to publicly release video in officer-involved fatalities within 30 days if it “does not hamper, impede or taint” an investigation. The police chief will need a waiver from the council to withhold video under those circumstances.

Faces in the video would be blurred, possibly including those of police officers, according to Francine Tournour, director of the accountability office. The family of the person killed would have the opportunity to view the video before public release.

The changes also call for the department to implement a body camera program. Interim City Manager Howard Chan said the city plans to purchase the equipment early next year.

The new rules do not specifically call for releasing body-camera footage to the public, but require the department to have a policy that “enhances transparency and availability of data to the public.”

The council also passed a resolution that requires the department to emphasize nonlethal methods when confronting suspects, though specifics will be developed by the department with approval of the city manager.

The Mann incident occurred July 11 in North Sacramento as tensions were brewing nationwide. It was four days after a sniper killed five police officers during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Dallas. That came after national unrest over police shootings of a black man in Louisiana and another in Minnesota.

Mann, described as mentally ill by family members, was armed with a knife when two police officers attempted to hit him with their cruiser, then shot him 14 times. The incident sparked community calls for reform after private surveillance video was released by The Sacramento Bee, prompting the Police Department to release dash-cam and other footage.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

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