Over the past several years, the Sacramento City Council has worked to find solutions to the historical and societal issue of black men and women dying at the hands of law enforcement. We have concluded that past councils may not have been clear enough about what was specifically expected of our police department.
As a result, in 2016, the council adopted a clear and specific policy that reflected our expectations, and provided the funds necessary to implement them. Among other things, the policy clearly states that we value the sanctity of life, that officers will be equipped with less lethal weapons, that lethal force will only be used as a last resort, that officers will be equipped with body cameras, that officers will receive training in de-escalation techniques and that video of lethal confrontations will be released within 30 days.
Now, with the death of Stephon Clark, the council must ascertain whether his shooting was due to institutional failure or individual failure or both.
Many questions remain to be answered. Did those responsible for implementing our policy properly institute it throughout the department? Did officers know the council valued the sanctity of human life? Were they issued and trained in the use of less lethal weapons and de-escalation techniques?
Or did the individual officers fail to comply even though aware, trained and equipped in all the ways our policy calls for? Or is there some other explanation?
Some may have already answered these questions in their own minds. But we as a council are not afforded that luxury. We must follow the trail of facts from the investigations, hold accountable those who are responsible and let the chips fall where they may.
Two agencies have primary jurisdiction regarding this matter. One is the City Council. The other is the district attorney. The city’s authority is limited to hiring, reprimanding or terminating an employee. The district attorney is responsible for determining if an individual is to be prosecuted.
Beyond those jurisdictions, and those decisions in the Stephon Clark case, more still needs to be done to reverse this historical issue. To that end I will make two requests when the council meets again next week.
First, that the council support a permanent statewide independent prosecutor to investigate, and if warranted, prosecute any use of lethal force by law enforcement.
And second, that we support revisions to all laws and statutes involving excessive police force including the California Peace Officers Bill of Rights, which limits public transparency and shields law enforcement from prosecution.
At the end of the day, this council’s goal is that justice will be served. It is my hope that the day will soon come when the slogan “Never Again” will not just be a slogan but will be our new reality.
Larry Carr is a Sacramento city councilman, representing District 8 in south Sacramento. Reach him at email@example.com.