Crime - Sacto 911

Q&A: Sacramento police chief discusses rise in crime, high-tech gadgets

Sacramento police Chief Samuel D. Somers Jr. said no one has a specific answer to the nationwide rise in crime.
Sacramento police Chief Samuel D. Somers Jr. said no one has a specific answer to the nationwide rise in crime. The Sacramento Bee

As crime has risen this year in Sacramento and the across the United States, police chiefs from across the nation descended on Chicago last month for several important law enforcement conferences to discuss the state of crime and how to combat criminals that are increasingly sophisticated. Sacramento Police Chief Samuel Somers Jr., along with a few deputies, attended the trio of conferences, which were organized by the International Association of Police Chiefs, Police Executive Research Forum and the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

Somers described the gatherings as critical for law enforcement to bounce ideas, share experiences and build connections. The events included a massive exhibition of various gadgets and new technologies for police officers. The Sacramento Bee sat down with Somers on Wednesday to discuss what he learned at the meetings. Answers have been edited for clarity.

Q: Why is crime up across the board?

A: The trend of crime going up across the United States is prevalent everywhere. Everyone’s experiencing the uptick, but no one has a specific answer. Some of the issues may surround the early release of inmates. You also have to examine the availability of social services for those people who are released. If you have nothing to support them from custody to society, you’re setting them up for failure.

The prevalence of firearms on the streets can be another reason why crime is rising. We have bad guys stealing them in burglaries. It’s important that if you’re not home, your gun needs to be secured properly in a safe.

Q: What are some of the innovative new products for police officers that you saw at the exhibits, and what do you expect to implement in Sacramento?

A: The trade show helps us find new technologies that can aid officers in crime-fighting. This year, we saw improved models of body cameras that are mounted in a hard case bracket and concealed under the uniform. If it’s underneath your shirt, you can’t slap it off. The body cameras are also now synchronized with each other, along with the in-dash patrol car camera. When viewing the tape, you see three different views synced together – body cameras from two officers and the patrol car dash cam. This allows us to see the event from three different angles side-by-side. It’s occurring at the same time, so I’m not trying to piece it together. Currently, the cameras in our test pilot program are not synched. We will take a look at all products on the market in 2016, when we expect to have body cameras deployed departmentwide.

Among the more interesting items being promoted was a functional jetpack. It was pretty cool. Officers can strap a pack on and search large swaths by air. Is anybody using it? No. But it’s interesting what people can come up with. You see all sorts of things all the way down to lockers and stands that can be used to charge Tasers and flashlights. The trade show has allowed us to find products that will work for Sacramento. Our proposals to use Shot Spotter, the gunshot detection device, and the police observation cameras originated from previous trade shows.

Q: What are the most pressing issues police officers face today?

A: Two words: community relations. How you’re interacting with the citizenry. We received a debrief on the Charleston church shooting. (The shooting occurred when a 21-year-old white man allegedly killed nine people in a black church during a prayer service). We had a discussion at the debrief meeting on how to react to a situation like this. Having strong ties to the community beforehand can make the healing process easier. Things can get blown out of hand if you don’t have those relationships ahead of time.

Q: Privacy advocates have criticized the increase in police surveillance. How do you respond to that?

A: We want to let people know that we are there. It’s overt. It’s not covert. We’re not surreptitiously recording something. There’s a flashing blue light on the police observation devices that are mounted on poles throughout town. If the bad guys know the police are watching, they’re probably less likely to commit a crime. The idea is to deter criminals from acting.

Richard Chang: 916-321-1018, @RichardYChang