Sacramento's first black police chief aims to heal embattled department
The new commission charged with overseeing the Sacramento Police Department’s policies and procedures will meet for the first time Monday, months after City Council members voted to replace the previous oversight group.
The 11-member advisory board will serve as a link between the City Council and the community, listening to residents’ concerns and forwarding recommendations to council members of any changes they deem necessary within the Police Department. Members will also look into department policing programs to evaluate their implementation and success.
“The issues that this commission will deal with are going to be high profile and it’s important that there is a group of community leaders that provide guidance and a voice for these crucial issues,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg said.
The Sacramento Community Police Review Commission members will have access to quarterly reports prepared by the Office of Public Safety Accountability, which reviews complaints against Sacramento Police Department employees, said Francine Tournour, director of the Office of Public Safety Accountability.
The reports will include data about the type and number of complaints filed against Police Department employees, as well as the status of such grievances. The group can make recommendations to the City Council based on those reports, as well as input from community members.
“This (commission) is somewhat unprecedented, when you are getting policy recommendation from people who are not in the Police Department,” Tournour said. “The policy dictates the behavior of the department, so the ability to (influence) policy is huge.”
Those sitting on the former police oversight group, started in late 2015 by former Mayor Kevin Johnson, were not allowed to comment on complaints filed against police employees during meetings.
The previous committee was initially seen as a step forward for the city, regarded as an improvement from the Community Racial Profiling Commission that was there before. Participation for that group had dwindled because it was restricted to only examining traffic stop data, Tournour said.
The 2015 commission formed after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man who was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., the year before. The shooting brought discussion about community-police relations to a forefront nationally, including in Sacramento.
The newest commission was formed by the City Council last November as part of a package of police reforms, after some community members argued the 2015 group did not have enough oversight capabilities.
That included the commission’s former chairman, Pastor Les Simmons, who resigned from his role three months after the fatal shooting of Joseph Mann in the Del Paso Heights neighborhood.
“I felt the commission lacked relevance in critical moments,” he said. “At one point I said, ‘What is my role here?’ ”
He, along with other locals, envisioned an oversight group more similar to the one in Berkeley, he said. Berkeley’s Police Review Commission is made up of city residents and can investigate allegations of misconduct by sworn members of the Police Department. The commission forwards its recommendations to the city manager and chief of police, according to the commission website.
None of the members of the new commission, or the old, have access to specific complaints or personnel files. That would require a change to the city charter, Tournour said. The commission also does not have the power to discipline officers suspected of wrongdoing.
Timothy Davis, Sacramento Police Department union president, also served on last year’s commission. He criticized the new oversight group for not including law enforcement members, something noted in the commission’s bylaws.
“In most cases, the people who are looking to see if a doctor did the job right are doctors,” he said. “For some strange reason, we’ve taken a complete opposite method and have prohibited police officers from having any input on how the Police Department is run.”
The commission’s start comes days after the swearing-in of Daniel Hahn as Sacramento police chief. The city has also seen a number of high-profile police shootings and other use-of-force incidents in the past year, which have put a strain between community members and local police.
That includes the fatal shooting of Joseph Mann, a mentally ill black man who was shot by two Sacramento police officers in Del Paso Heights.
The 11-member board was nominated by the City Council members, and is made up of residents from an array of backgrounds.
The youngest member, Johnny Coleman, was 19 when he was selected to the commission by council member Allen Warren. Coleman graduated from Grant High School in 2016, and has participated in several youth policing programs such as the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Explorers Program and the Sacramento Police Department Magnet Academy, he said.
“Growing up, I was always told, ‘Never trust police,’ ” he said. “I thought it would be a good idea to join a few programs and see for myself.”
Coleman said the training gave him a better idea of what officers deal with on the job. In May, he made headlines after a California Highway Patrol officer escorted him off a light-rail train and detained him because he matched the description of a suspect believed to be nearby.
Basim Elkarra, who runs the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, will serve on the new commission after serving in last year’s dismantled oversight group.
Wendy Hoyt, a longtime Sacramento resident, transportation consultant and urban planner, will also serve on the committee. She said she was excited to begin working with other commission members, local law enforcement and listening to concerns that arise.
“The more exposure we get and the more issues we talk about, the better we’ll be able to make recommendations,” she said. “But at the end of the day, the decision lies on the City Council.”
The Sacramento Community Police Review Commission will meet at 6 p.m. every second Monday of the month at the new City Hall, 915 I St.