Foon Rhee

Sacramento’s new top cop talks a good game. Will he follow up with action?

Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn speaks with the Sacramento Bee editorial board on Aug. 24.
Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn speaks with the Sacramento Bee editorial board on Aug. 24.

It’s way early, but new Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn is at least saying a lot of the right things about building more trust between the department and the community it’s supposed to serve and protect.


Actually, with some of what he says, your reaction is: You don’t hear that every day from a police chief.

For instance, he said while his department could certainly use reinforcements, if adding 50 officers came at the expense of cutting youth programs or closing parks, he would tell the City Council not to do it. Public safety is determined by far more than the size of a police force, he said. Of the department’s 753 authorized positions, 95 are vacant and another 34 officers are still in the academy, not on the street.

Also, Hahn said that while body cameras and citizens commissions are significant, they mostly deal with police misconduct and controversies after the fact. So if they’re all that comes of the scrutiny on police shootings, Sacramento and other cities will soon be back in the same boat, he told The Bee’s editorial board last Thursday. Instead, he’s focused on the groundwork of meeting with community leaders and advocacy groups, though he hasn’t set a date yet with local Black Lives Matter.

And Hahn described his challenge in more stark and simple terms than we’re used to hearing: Too many residents believe all cops are racist. Too many officers get defensive and say all cops are heroes. All sides must be willing to change.

So far, Hahn, the city’s first black police chief, seems to see the bigger picture of how law enforcement can succeed in today’s diverse, social media world.

He sent an important signal by taking time on his first day on the job Aug. 14 to speak to the new and hopefully improved Community Police Review Commission. Four days later, he joined a peace march in Oak Park, a neighborhood hit by violence. And on Saturday, he spoke on a panel at the grand opening of the Unity Center at the California Museum.

Yet as essential as reaching out to the community is, it’s just as important to change the culture within the police department.

Getting officers to buy into his vision will get a little easier, courtesy of a new contract. Though the details won’t be made public until Thursday, Hahn said it includes a pay raise that will improve morale and help stop losses to other departments. It also includes an incentive for officers to live inside the city limits, a good idea a long time coming. The City Council is to vote Sept. 12 on the contract, supported by the Sacramento Police Officers Association.

In his visit with the editorial board, Hahn addressed other issues he’ll face right away:

▪ He is open to Advance Peace, the latest proposal to tackle gangs in Sacramento, which was put on the fast track after a rash of shootings over the weekend, including a deadly one in Meadowview. The council moved up the item from Sept. 19 and voted Tuesday night to commit $1.5 million over three years to the program, which is modeled after one in the Bay Area city of Richmond.

In a statement Tuesday, Hahn said while there isn’t “one magic solution,” “it’s very possible Advance Peace can be part of our community’s strategy for reducing violence.” He agrees with the premise of Advance Peace that a relatively small number of young men cause a disproportionate amount of crime.

He’s also not opposed to the idea of paying gang members for reaching goals such as earning a high school diploma, though some critics say it amounts to rewarding them for not committing crimes. His main question is how to measure success, because if it works, the city’s cost for the program would be “a drop in the bucket” compared to the savings in criminal justice and social costs.

▪ He’s worried about how marijuana legalization will play out. For instance, he pointed out that there’s no clear cut way yet for officers to enforce driving under the influence of pot. And because federal law doesn’t allow marijuana businesses to use banks, the amount of cash floating around is “very concerning.”

At Hahn’s recommendation, the council voted last week to temporarily use SWAT units to target illegal marijuana grow houses. He didn’t want to take patrol officers off the street to go after these operations, which he said are magnets for violence and robberies and also a fire and safety hazard to the surrounding neighborhood.

▪ He doesn’t want to just arrest homeless people to enforce the city’s anti-camping and panhandling ordinances. Putting them in jail without dealing with mental health and substance abuse problems doesn’t really help, he said.

▪ Hahn reaffirmed that the department won’t be an arm of federal immigration enforcement. That would diminish trust with the community, he said. Tuesday morning, he joined Mayor Darrell Steinberg and other leaders in a press conference urging President Donald Trump not to end the program protecting “Dreamers” brought here illegally by their parents.

▪ He wants to “intelligently diversify” the ranks by ethnic background and gender, but also by experience and education, to help increase connections with the community.

▪ Hahn promises to follow the new city ordinance requiring that the department release video of police shootings to the public within 30 days. The only exceptions, he said, would be to avoid jeopardizing investigations by compromising witness accounts.

He also pledged to release more videos not covered by the ordinance, as the department did on Aug. 17, when it put out four clips of a July incident in which a pregnant woman says an officer threw her to the ground.

Hahn is off to a promising start. Of course, all his strong words and good deeds could be ripped apart if there’s another questionable police shooting of an unarmed civilian. As for so many police chiefs in America, that will be his real test.

Foon Rhee: 916-321-1913, @foonrhee