Editorials

In anti-transparency era, Sacramento police chief sets positive example for others

Attorney General Xavier Becerra, left, answers questions with Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, center, and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, right, at a press conference in Sacramento, Calif., on Tues., March 27, 2018. Two of Hahn’s police officers shot and killed Stephon Clark who was found only holding a cell phone.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra, left, answers questions with Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, center, and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, right, at a press conference in Sacramento, Calif., on Tues., March 27, 2018. Two of Hahn’s police officers shot and killed Stephon Clark who was found only holding a cell phone. rbyer@sacbee.com

At a time when law enforcement agencies across the state are actively resisting transparency and accountability, Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn is pursuing a different – and better – course.

Last year, when Hahn requested that the California Department of Justice examine the way his department handles shootings and other critical incidents, he made it clear that he’s seriously committed to positive change.

Hahn’s commitment is more important than ever in the wake of the shooting death of Stephon Clark, 22, who was killed after two Sacramento police officers fired over 20 rounds at him in his grandmother’s backyard. The killing of the unarmed father of two sparked major protests and put a national spotlight on the Sacramento Police Department.

Clark’s death is now the subject of two ongoing criminal probes into the actions of Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet, the officers who shot him. In addition, Clark’s family has filed a $20 million federal civil rights lawsuit and a $35 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city.

In the aftermath of Clark’s death, Hahn requested that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s take a close look at his department. Last week, flanked by Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Hahn, Becerra released a 96-page report “urging the Sacramento Police Department to adopt sweeping changes in its use of force training and dozens of other areas,” according The Bee.

On a positive note, the investigation “found SPD personnel to be professional, thoughtful, and committed to making change.”

On the other hand, “SPD has significant deficiencies in some of the operational systems assessed.”

“For example, DOJ identified deficiencies ranging from outdated Use of Force policies, lack of standardization and rigor in use of force internal investigations and training, and lack of systemic information collection and accountability measures, particularly with regard to the personnel complaint process,” says the report, which makes 49 recommendations to improve the department.

According to a story by Bee reporter Sam Stanton: “The recommendations include:

clearly defining when an officer may use force against a citizen, improving on a written policy that Becerra’s team declared was too general and ‘overly reliant on the minimal, applicable legal standard.’

expanding the use of ‘de-escalation’ tactics designed to prevent confrontations from spiraling into deadly incidents.

prohibiting officers from detaining suspects in a position that could interfere with their ability to breathe.”

Attorney General Becerra added that Sacramento police need to “adopt more of a ‘guardian mindset’ toward residents that emphasizes cooperation with officers when possible over police demanding compliance.”

Now that the recommendations have been made, the question is whether they’ll be implemented. Given what we’ve seen so far from Chief Hahn, we have no doubt he’ll make every effort to follow through on improvements.

”The Sacramento Police Department is not interested in being ‘good enough,’ ” said Hahn.

Hahn deserves praise for having the courage to both seek an independent examination and publicly release its results. In the words of the DOJ’s report: “Inviting outside scrutiny of the department is a hallmark of strong leadership and sends an important signal about the department’s commitment to continued progress.”

Contrast Hahn’s leadership of the Sacramento Police Department with the behavior of Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones, who has pursued a very different course. Where Hahn seeks to build bridges between police and the community, Jones has sought to burn them. Where Hahn demands transparency and accountability, Jones has actively thwarted the public’s right to know.

Last week, both The Bee and the Los Angeles Times sued Jones in Sacramento Superior Court for “refusing to follow the statute that requires the release of records on deputies who fired their weapons or engaged in misconduct on duty,” according to The Bee.

Jones’ department, like several other law enforcement agencies across the state, is refusing to comply with a new law, Senate Bill 1421, which requires them to release records on officers involved incidents like officer-involved shootings or crimes. SB 1421 was designed to increase transparency, but Jones has denied the newspapers’ requests for records dating back to 2014, arguing that the law does not apply to records created before the law’s passage. The matter will be resolved in court – and hopefully in the favor of the public rather than the sheriff.

Jones is also being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California for blocking Sacramento Black Lives Matter activists from commenting on his official Facebook page, which the ACLU says violates their First Amendment rights.

What Jones doesn’t seem to understand is that police work is about more than guns and badges. Trust, respect and honor are also crucial elements of public safety.

Fortunately for Sacramento, Chief Hahn is working hard to exemplify these values. His commitment to them must remain firm when it comes to implementing necessary changes.

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