Editorials

Forget protests. There’s a better way to reform Sacramento police

L. Gracie Phillips, Hannah Williams and Pam Morgan show support during a Black Lives Matter protest over the controversial killing of Joseph Mann.
L. Gracie Phillips, Hannah Williams and Pam Morgan show support during a Black Lives Matter protest over the controversial killing of Joseph Mann. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

When dashcam video emerged of police chasing and fatally shooting Joseph Mann, a mentally ill black man walking around North Sacramento with a knife in July, the angry reaction from the public was swift, as were the calls for the two officers involved to be fired.

When audio of the shooting was pulled from the video days later, revealing that officers had also tried to run over Mann, there were howls of betrayal and calls to overhaul the entire Sacramento Police Department.

Anger will get a community only so far, though. The next step is implementing a resident-driven policy, and that starts this week when the city holds the first of four public meetings on its revised Officer Next Door Community Policing Strategy. The first one is Thursday evening at the South Natomas Community Center.

The details of the proposed reforms, which cover everything from more training to more civilian oversight, will live or die based on how many residents show up to offer their input. And there’s a lot at stake, not the least of which is restoring public trust in a department that has weathered several self-inflicted blows to its image over the past year.

In response to the Mann shooting and that of another mentally ill black man, Dazion Flenaugh, the Sacramento City Council and Mayor Kevin Johnson are considering whether to require cops to learn new de-escalation tactics and techniques to deal with mentally ill suspects.

Over the objections of law enforcement, the council also would order all dashcam video from police shootings to be released to the public, unless the department can prove that doing so would hurt an investigation, or violate state law or union contracts.

Residents should weigh in on the crucial question of civilian oversight. Right now, it’s split between a largely toothless Sacramento Community Police Commission and the understaffed Office of Public Safety Accountability. But under the proposed reforms, the commission would be staffed by appointees from council members and the mayor, get more authority to investigate police misconduct, and become part of a beefed up Office of Public Safety Accountability.

But most important, the public will get to spell out what they want to see in Sacramento’s next police chief. The current chief, Sam Somers Jr., is retiring next month and his successor likely will be hired after Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg takes office next year.

Sacramento residents shouldn’t pass up this chance to make their voices heard.

  Comments