It shouldn’t have taken the deaths of two mentally ill black men at the hands of police and the threat of lawsuits for Sacramento to require officers to get more training to deal with people in the midst of crisis. But it did.
In April, Dazion Jerome Flenaugh was shot by three officers after he had a meltdown in the back of a police cruiser and ran away, then armed himself with a knife and meat cleaver. One officer called him a “freak” and told a bystander to hit Flenaugh “with a baseball bat a couple of times” to “mellow him out.”
Then in July, Joseph Mann was gunned down by two officers who had tried to run him over with their cruiser. Armed with a knife and erratically punching the air and talking to himself while walking away from police, Mann was shot 14 times.
“I have the unenviable task tomorrow of returning the worldly possessions of Mr. Dazion Jerome Flenaugh,” the family’s attorney, Mark Harris, told the City Council and Mayor Darrell Steinberg at last week’s meeting. “His life has been reduced to this envelope.”
By requiring all officers to take a week of crisis intervention training, used by police departments across the country to teach officers how to de-escalate run-ins with non-compliant people, Steinberg and council members hope to avoid such situations in the future.
It’s certainly a step in the right direction.
Right now, Sacramento cops are required only to take eight-hour “awareness” courses of crisis intervention training. Within the next two years, though, every sworn officer will have to get 40 hours, which is more than many police departments in California demand. It will start with patrol officers and dispatchers, and move on to supervisors and detectives who have less interaction with the public.
The key will be to make sure the officers use the training they get by working with the community to continually measure the department’s effectiveness.
Equally important will be the culture that Sacramento’s next chief of police establishes. It cannot be one that continues to favor secrecy over transparency.
The city has hired Arturo Sanchez, a former deputy city manager in Long Beach, to help find a chief with those values. Sam Somers Jr. retired in December after a spate of police shootings, and Brian Louie is serving as interim chief.
Sanchez, in his role as assistant city manager, will have outsized influence over all aspects of the search, including getting input from the public and helping craft a list of qualifications to consider. It’s an area where he has some experience.
Before starting in Long Beach in early 2015, he spent years working in the Bay Area, much of it in Oakland where he helped pick Howard Jordan, one of a long line of police chiefs who left under a cloud of questions. He also oversaw Oakland Citizens’ Police Review Board, which investigated complaints of misconduct.
Oakland is just now starting to recover from a sex scandal that exploded in late 2015 and led to the dismissal of four city cops and the suspension of seven others, all while under the watch of a federal monitor.
Watching that unfold from Southern California, Sanchez says he has learned that “when there is a specific ongoing issue that needs addressing within the department, like assessing the compliance of employees reporting misconduct,” it’s important to ask candidates for police chief for a plan to continuously deal with that issue. “That’s something we could have done better,” he told a member of The Bee’s editorial board.
Sacramento police don’t have near the problems that Oakland police have had. But after the deaths of Mann and Flenaugh, the Sacramento Police Department’s reputation is blemished. With more training and the right community-minded chief, the Sacramento Police Department can rebuild trust.