Roseville police Chief Daniel Hahn sat in his tidy office at the department’s Junction Boulevard headquarters as large photographs of his smiling wife and two daughters, ages 10 and 12, adorned the room.
It was just more than six years ago that Hahn walked into the office after being sworn in as the department’s highest-ranking cop and first African American police chief.
The move was not easy for the Sacramento native, who grew up in the Oak Park neighborhood and got his start in law enforcement with the capital city’s Police Department as a community service officer in 1987 while a student at Sacramento City College.
Hahn, 48, who lives in south Sacramento, said his plan at the time was to work for the department until he graduated from college, quitting after getting his business degree to become a teacher or businessman. Raised by his widowed adoptive mother for most of his life, Hahn said he did not have family members or friends in the police force who encouraged him to seek out the career when he was young.
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But police work grew on him. He was made a patrol officer in 1989 and was later promoted to a problem-oriented police officer six years later. He worked closely with community members in Del Paso Heights and the Strawberry Manor neighborhoods.
He continued to work his way up the department’s ranks, trying his hand as a teacher for Grant High School’s Criminal Justice Academy, a sergeant, a public information officer, lieutenant and later a captain overseeing the investigations unit. Soon, Hahn caught the eye of the department’s top officers and local officials as a promising pick to one day lead the Sacramento Police Department.
But an opening for the Roseville police chief and encouragement from his mentors swayed him to compete for the Roseville post. Then-Roseville City Manager Ray Kerridge, who previously had the same job in Sacramento, called Hahn and offered him the police chief job.
Wearing a dark blue police uniform, Hahn talked to The Sacramento Bee late last month about finding his pace in the new department, his thoughts on Sacramento’s open police chief position and the future of policing.
Q: Can you tell me about your decision to apply for the Roseville police chief job?
A: It was definitely my hardest professional decision in my life and still to this day is the hardest because I love Sacramento. … I never ever thought about leaving, even my bad days I didn’t think about leaving. So I met with a lot of people I consider my mentors when those phone calls started coming.
I actually said “No” for about a month and “Hell, no” for like a month. I didn’t even give it two thoughts. … I quickly learned that Roseville had never had a black chief; Roseville is not very diverse, and I thought, “Do I really want to be that guy? How is Roseville going to accept me?”
Q: What made you change your mind?
A: When I did meet with a couple of my mentors who had been chiefs, they said this was a great opportunity. They said, “You know Roseville is a well-run city and so you’re not going to probably have too many more opportunities if you ever want to be a chief. There’s probably not a better opportunity than that.”
Q: What was difficult about starting the new job?
A: It was challenging because not only was I learning how to be a new chief myself, but I was learning this department. While I’m trying to learn my job, I’m also trying to figure out who all these people are and what all their strengths and weaknesses are and how we are going to (work) as a team.
Q: What are some of the changes you wanted to bring to the Roseville Police Department?
A: I’m a firm believer in the gaps you have within different neighborhoods of levels of trust is a bad thing. You shouldn’t have the same police department, the same everybody in this neighborhood having a high level of trust, and then you go down the street and there’s a community that doesn’t have that level of trust. And you’re not going to gain that trust by going, “Well, too bad; I hope it gets different.” You have to work to build that trust.
Q: How did your time within the Sacramento Police Department prepare you to be a police chief?
A: The patrol commander experience (in the Sacramento Police Department) was really the best training ground that I could have done for this job because a lot of the stuff we do here are the things that worked when I was in the North Command. Crime is a big deal. We don’t want anyone to be a victim of crime. But it’s also a big deal if people think you care and you’re trying your best to do something about it. If you have crime and they think you don’t care, that’s when we have problems. You have to address both.
Q: Can you tell me about your use of social media and email groups while you were a commander for the Sacramento Police Department?
A: The captain before me had come up with the idea of sending out every once in a while information to community members. I think it’s important for the community to know what the officers are doing in the community, for the officers to be responsive to whatever the community feels is important for their quality of life, regardless of what it is, and those Yahoo Groups and the social media helped us do that.
Q: What changes do you foresee in the future for the Roseville Police Department?
A: It’s just going to keep getting better the more chances we have to prove that we care about our community and the people that live here. So that’s more of the same. But I think the bigger one is that the whole criminal justice system has changed in the last couple of years. It’s probably changed more in the past couple years than in my entire career with AB 109 (prison overcrowding), (Proposition) 47 (reduced penalties for some crimes), court decisions and all these things.
Our job is to improve the quality of life in our city, period. No matter what the system is, we have to find a way to do that within whatever the system is. So I would say the next 10 years is probably going to bring more changes in the system as a whole. I don’t know what those will be, but we have to have an organization that is flexible enough to be able to accomplish that.
Q: Have you thought about running for the Sacramento police chief job?
A: I’m the Roseville police chief; that’s the only thing that crosses my mind.
Q: So you haven’t been tempted to go back to work in Sacramento?
A: There’s definitely temptation, but I don’t think about. I have enough to do right now thinking about Roseville and the Roseville Police Department.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: For over a century, we’ve been dealing with the same exact problems that we are dealing with now in terms of police-community relations. If you look at the late 1800s, the late 1900s, through Watts in the ’60s and all these other things, you have communities that feel disenfranchised, you have communities that feel like their opportunities for jobs and just quality of life are not the same as other communities, so they are frustrated and they are angry and all of the above.
It just seems to me like it’s time to end that. It’s time to do something that actually works and quit nibbling around the edges and doing small token things. Five years later, you’re in the same exact circumstances. It’s not just on law enforcement. It’s on community and law enforcement and all the above to say: “Let’s get serious.”
(Body cameras and commissions) are two of the things that are most bandied about, and I think they are very useful in building trust and building transparency and all that, but if that’s all you do, we’ll be here again in five years.