The ‘Stephon Clark law’

Stevante Clark, left, leads a protest after the death of George Floyd.

Essay: City of Sacramento still hasn’t fully complied with state law on use-of-force by police

By Norma Nelson

In some ways, the city of Sacramento inspired many to support Assembly Bill 392—also known as the “Stephon Clark law”—which changed the standard for use of deadly force by law enforcement officers in California.

In 2017, the League of Women Voters of California formed a task force to study criminal justice reform. I represented the Sacramento County chapter. After Clark was shot by Sacramento police in March 2018, the league adopted a position on criminal justice that included police practices and the Legislature passed AB 392.

So it is crucial that the city complies with AB 392.

We just released our year-long study of policing policies and procedures in the city. It reveals that the City Council has the decision-making powers to carry out more accountability and transparency in policing.

Specifically, the lack of accountability for policing disparities in disadvantaged communities with behavioral health issues, particularly with Black and Brown residents, is inexcusable. The council has the power to adopt the specific language and policy intent of AB 392. Yet it allows its appointees and city officials to develop policy without the council’s proper consideration and approval, or adequate community input.

Some elected officials and perhaps community members seem to have the impression that the racism issues raised after the police killings of Black men were resolved simply because the city hired a Black police chief and because Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Police Chief Daniel Hahn asked the California Department of Justice to review its policing policies and practices and the city established a Community Police Review Commission and an Office of Public Safety and Accountability.

This is not the case.

The council was reluctant to place the Department of Justice and citizens review commission’s recommendations on its agenda for public discussion. That is, until the George Floyd police killing in Minnesota caused global civil unrest.

Norma Nelson is a board member and criminal justice chairperson for the League of Women Voters of Sacramento County.

At council meetings this summer, there were discussions about police reforms. Council members requested policy changes for enhanced police accountability, but city staff responded that they would have to be negotiated with the police union. Yet, the police union provided input into the recent use-of-force policies and procedures adopted by the Sacramento Police Department outside the bargaining process. The council needs to monitor these matters to assure that the city is maintaining personnel management rights and is not giving these rights away.

To date, the city has refused to establish the accountability required to comply with the letter and intent of AB 392, in spite of recommendations from the state Department of Justice, the community commission and now the League of Women Voters.

The council must provide policy direction to city staff, hold its appointees accountable for carrying out city policy and put AB 392 into the city code.

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