Editorials

Sacramento police need a reformer-in-chief

Sacramento police gather in Del Paso Heights after a 28-year-old parolee was shot multiple times during a gun battle with law enforcement in February.
Sacramento police gather in Del Paso Heights after a 28-year-old parolee was shot multiple times during a gun battle with law enforcement in February. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Hire from within or hire from outside? For better or worse, this is the question that has framed the debate over who should be the next chief of the Sacramento Police Department.

But City Manager Howard Chan and other city officials don’t need to answer it. Not really.

As they evaluate seven candidates this week, with the goal of a final selection next month, they should consider first and foremost who will be the best reformer.

Interim Chief Brian Louie and Deputy Chief Ken Bernard have thrown their hats in the ring. Roseville police Chief Daniel Hahn, a former captain in Sacramento, reportedly has, too. The remaining candidates are from outside the region.

But it matters less if the new chief comes from within the ranks of Sacramento police. What matters is that he or she should be unafraid to change the culture of a department that has lost the trust of much of the public and continues to resist attempts to become more transparent and accountable.

It will be a tough job, for sure. Rank-and-file police officers are angry and feel as if they are being attacked by Mayor Darrell Steinberg and some City Council members. Morale is low and officers complain that pay is, too.

That’s reflected as the police union calls for an insider as the next chief. Only someone who has come up through the ranks of the department, they say, can be a true advocate for officers.

“The department doesn’t need to be reformed,” union leader Tim Davis told The Bee’s Anita Chabria. The next chief needs to “let everyone know what our strengths are.”

Clearly, most officers are dedicated. But it is hard to notice strengths when officers get tangled up in questionable shootings, including of Joseph Mann in Del Paso Heights last year, as well as accusations of racial profiling.

Therefore, community leaders want an outsider as chief. They say that is the only way to guarantee the new chief won’t be a part of the good ol’ boy network of officers who have kept the status quo going for far too long.

Other cities, including Los Angeles, have hired outsiders to come in, clean house and leave. But with the right candidate, an insider could do the same.

Chan, who ultimately must decide who to hire, says he wants a partner, not a subordinate. He is right to want a chief who understands the stakes of setting the department straight in the eyes of officers and the community. Looking for a reformer is the first step.

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