Fundamental change?

Mayor Darrell Steinberg, left, and Police Chief Daniel Hahn took part in a protest in Oak Park on June 3. (Photo from city of Sacramento)

Mayor Steinberg puts forward his police reform plan for Sacramento, including an independent inspector general

Declaring that “our community is crying out for zero tolerance for police brutality,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg called Monday for two major changes for policing in Sacramento—an inspector general to investigate officers and a new civilian corps to respond to non-criminal 911 calls.

Now, the Sacramento Police Department investigates its own officers. The proposed inspector general would review police shootings, deaths in custody and any use of force resulting in death or serious injury. And the inspector general—who would work within the city’s office of public safety accountability—would make findings public, including recommendations on officer discipline and dismissals.

Steinberg said nothing else will have as much impact on community trust in police. “Together we have a collective credibility problem,” he said in the City Council chambers.

He said the city’s inspector general would be stronger than the one overseeing the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. As added accountability, the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission could take the inspector general’s findings and make its own public recommendation on disciplining or firing officers.

Under Steinberg’s second proposal, a new community response agency would answer 911 calls, including those involving mental illness and homelessness, that don’t involve crimes in progress. The mayor called for $5 million to be allocated to start this new corps, staffed by mental health and social work specialists, but only as a down payment.

Over the next 60 days, city officials will determine how many 911 calls are non-criminal to figure out how much of the Police Department budget can be shifted. It would take 24 months to fully and effectively make this transition, Steinberg’s office says.

This is Steinberg’s response to the more sweeping “Defund the Police” movement supported by some George Floyd protestors and advocacy groups.

As it is, the Police Department budget is scheduled to rise to $157 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1, in part due to pay increases for officers. That includes the police share of Measure U spending jumping from $35.2 million to $41.7 million. That’s about half the total Measure U money since sales tax revenues have plummeted during the coronavirus lockdown, from a projected $99.6 million for 2020-21 to $80.2 million.

Steinberg pledged Monday that his inspector general and community corps proposals are only a beginning for a “long overdue course correction” for the police.

Asked why he didn’t offer these proposals earlier—before the George Floyd protests—Steinberg replied: “The events of the past couple of weeks have shaken me to the core.”

He also again endorsed a review suggested by Larry Carr, Eric Guerra, Rick Jennings and Allen Warren—the four non-white members of the City Council.

On June 9, they jointly called for the council to study efforts to diversify the police department, to consider recommendations from the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission and to look at the national “Eight Can’t Wait” use-of-force framework.

Sacramento already follows five of the eight guidelines, according to the police department, which put out a response and a summary of its current use-of-force policy, including the June 6 suspension of the “cartoid control hold.”

In a March 2019 report to the City Council, the community commission recommended that the police department’s use-of-force policy be changed so that deadly force is clearly allowed “only as a last resort.” It also called for quarterly reports to the public on details for use-of-force incidents. And it said the department needs to make much more progress on diversity.

The department is not representative of Sacramento residents. In 2019, it was 67% white, 13% Hispanic, 8% Asian and 6% black, and those numbers have not changed much in recent years.

These proposals aren’t the only ones before the City Council.

Also Monday, Councilwoman Angelique Ashby released her own list of 14 recommendations, which include versions of Steinberg’s proposals but also include looking at a local version of Breonna’s Law to ban no-knock warrant raids.

And also Monday, Attorney General Xavier Becerra unveiled statewide proposals that he said stem from his recommendations to the Sacramento police following the killing of Stephon Clark in March 2018.

Becerra called for requiring police officers to intervene to prevent excessive force by fellow officers, to deescalate situations and to give verbal warnings before using force. He also called for a ban on choke holds and for firing into moving vehicles, except when there’s an imminent deadly threat. And he called for a reexamination of the police role dealing with the mentally ill and homeless.

He said his use-of-force proposals align with the national “Eight Can’t Wait” reforms, and he urged police departments to make the changes as soon as possible, before many will be required by law starting in January.

Some key points, however, are out of local and state control. For instance, some Democrats in Congress want to limit the legal immunity for police officers.

But the White House opposes that legislation, and on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to reexamine the “qualified immunity” doctrine in cases claiming excessive force and other police misconduct.

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