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Sacramento police change tracking of misconduct complaints after AG flags inconsistencies

California Attorney General Becerra releases report on policies, practices at Sacramento Police Department

California Attorney General Becerra, Sacramento Chief of Police Hahn and Sacramento Mayor Steinberg hold a press conference on a Calif. Department of Justice report on use of force-related policies and practices within the Sacramento Police Dept.
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California Attorney General Becerra, Sacramento Chief of Police Hahn and Sacramento Mayor Steinberg hold a press conference on a Calif. Department of Justice report on use of force-related policies and practices within the Sacramento Police Dept.

The Sacramento Police Department has changed the way it tracks complaints of misconduct against its officers, one of the first changes the department is making in response to state Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s sweeping report on the force’s training and policies released last week.

The Police Department’s internal affairs division, which already handled formal investigations of complaints, will now track all informal investigations known as inquiries, department spokesman Officer Marcus Basquez said Wednesday, the day after Becerra’s report was released.

“Inquiries” are defined as “initial allegations of misconduct” and are investigated informally, according to the department’s Internal Investigation Manual. Becerra’s report said inquiries are poorly tracked in the department’s central database, noting “there is no single, reliable, and central repository for complaints made by the community.”

The change comes weeks after the release of another state Department of Justice report in which Sacramento Police reported zero racial or identity profiling complaints in 2017, saying its internal affairs division had not investigated any complaints alleging profiling by officers. For the same year, the city’s Office of Public Safety and Accountability, tasked with providing oversight of the police department, received four profiling complaints against officers, according to Director Francine Tournour.

Those complaints were not reported to the state because they did not require a formal investigation and were categorized as inquiries, department spokesman Sgt. Vance Chandler told The Sacramento Bee in January.

“Those are zero complaints that were investigated in a formal matter ... and those that were reported to the DOJ were only formal complaints,” Chandler said. “Those were not inquiries.”

After review by OPSA staff, the profiling complaints were cleared, Tournour said, and forwarded to the the police department for further review.

They were not reported to the state Department of Justice, the Racial and Identity Profiling Report shows.

Sacramento police classify complaints based on the severity of the allegation and the way it is investigated, according to the Internal Investigation Manual posted on the department’s website. An inquiry is usually reviewed by an officer’s supervisor and depending on the severity of the allegation, “it can be as simple as a supervisor pulling you into a room and saying, ‘Hey, don’t do that again,’ ” Basquez said.

The inquiry is elevated to a “citizen complaint” when it is investigated by internal affairs, which is tasked with investigating police personnel and policies, the manual states.

Sacramento Police reported 18 complaints for 2017 in the Racial and Identity Profiling Report, four of which were made by civilians alleging excessive force, improper tactics, discourtesy and dishonesty, according to records obtained through the state’s Public Records Act. All but one were cleared.

In a news conference Tuesday, Becerra released a review of Sacramento Police Department policies and procedures, including a recommendation that SPD streamline and standardize its complaint process to “ensure compliance with SPD’s obligations under the law,” the report said.

“In January of 2019, we implemented a new process for tracking all complaints regarding police personnel and our professional standards unit,” Basquez said Wednesday. “We’ll conduct further research on the recommendations provided.”

The report flagged the department’s processing of inquiries as inconsistent and recommended changes to the process: “Allegations of misconduct that are classified as inquiries or OPSA complaints are investigated informally, and do not trigger the same tracking and documentation requirements as citizen or department complaints, which are investigated formally.”

“This creates a universe of complaints that are handled informally and never tracked by Internal Affairs,” the report said.

The report recommended all complaints be funneled and logged by internal affairs. It also recommends a general order be adopted for handling complaints that directs employees on the intake, classification and investigation of complaints.

Ed Obayashi, a racial profiling expert and Plumas County deputy sheriff, said it’s an issue of methodology for categorizing complaints that explains how a force of 644 sworn personnel would not report any racial profiling complaints in 2017.

“I would understand if the general public was suspicious of that statistic,” Obayashi said. “How can they not have a single complaint in 2017 regarding racial profiling? That seems counter-intuitive.”

“It’s not done deliberately to not report complaints,” he explained. “... It does skew what the statistics are trying to accomplish.

“The reporting is there for a purpose. Whether a complaint is formal or informal, it’s still a complaint.”

“Currently, we are updating our internal affairs manual and how we report this information to DOJ,” Chandler said in January.

The police department has been critiqued for its complaint process before. In a 2017 report released by the Office of Public Safety and Accountability, it addressed the system of classifying initial complaints as “inquiries.”

“OPSA has been contacted by dissatisfied complainants whose complaints were handled by SPD as inquiries,” the report said. “OPSA reviews of some of these cases have revealed apparent policy violations. As such, the OPSA is not confident that all instances of potential misconduct reported by community members are being appropriately addressed by the existing complaint intake system.”

Additionally, the report raises concerns that the practice of categorizing complaints as inquiries undermines the department’s early warning system, “as there is no mechanism to determine whether an officer is the subject of disproportionate numbers of ‘inquiries.’ ”

“For me, it’s a complaint if a complaint is filed,” Tournour said, director of the city’s oversight panel. “Look, they have to change the way they categorize their complaints.”

“Basically, we’re going to make sure the categories are in line with DOJ’s report,” Basquez said.

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