City Beat

Sacramento unveils new community policing initiative

Sacramento is taking a new approach to policing that focuses on what police Chief Sam Somers Jr. called one of the biggest challenges facing the department: bettering law enforcement’s relationship with the community.

The Police Department’s most recent data revealed a decrease in violent crime and low rate of diversity in the department. The stated goal of a new program unveiled Thursday – called Officer Next Door – was to keep crime down while increasing department-wide diversity and community engagement.

Mayor Kevin Johnson, Somers and several members of City Council highlighted key parts of the initiative at a news conference.

Among them:

▪ Engaging churches and community leaders in collaborative programs that promote cooperation between police and citizens.

▪ The creation of a gang task force.

▪ Instituting a diversity pipeline program that would recruit future officers at younger ages by partnering with local high schools and the department’s Cadet Program.

▪ Creating a new commission to oversee the city’s implementation of these programs.

To attract a more diverse applicant pool, Somers said, officers will be more positive forces in minority communities as the department works with schools to bring students interested in a career in law enforcement into their new pipeline program.

The idea that Sacramento must “get out in front” of the wave of mistrust of law enforcement came less than two weeks after a black man was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., Johnson said. Since then, protests in Sacramento and cities across the nation have called for greater transparency and accountability among police.

This, officials said, is Sacramento’s answer.

“We didn’t have a Ferguson issue here,” Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said. “What we had was a response to an issue in another part of the country where we said, ‘We don’t want that to happen to Sacramento.’ ”

Several of the program’s components – a use-of-force simulator, the diversity pipeline, a gang-prevention task force, and a body camera pilot program – were included in the City Council’s additions to the 2015-16 budget approved earlier this month, along with 15 new police officers.

All told, the council approved nearly $5.4 million on Officer Next Door initiatives.

By July, a plan for the proposed Sacramento Community Policing Commission will be brought to the City Council for approval, officials said. In four months, the commission is expected to begin its work gathering “input from communities across the city to develop recommendations for police practices that reflect the values of our diverse residents and present those recommendations to the chief of police and the city,” according to an overview produced by city staff.

Members for the commission will be appointed. The city’s goal is to have 11 members total, with at least one representative from a faith-based organization, civil rights organization, local business or philanthropy group, an organization that represents the interests of racial minorities, an advocacy group, youth or student bodies, academia and those who offer services to homeless and mentally ill people.

The city’s Racial Profiling Commission, whose ability to make recommendations beyond its original scope of examining traffic stop data, will be repurposed and folded into the new commission, officials said.

Marissa Lang: (916) 321-1038; mlang@sacbee.com

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