California AG Calls for Revamp of Sacramento Police Tactics

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – One day after being slapped with a $20 million lawsuit sparked by the killing of Stephon Clark in his family’s backyard, Sacramento officials were told Tuesday to revamp police use of force guidelines and conduct better investigations into police shootings. 

FILE – In this Tuesday, March 27, 2018, file photo, demonstrators gather outside the entrance to the Sacramento City Council chambers to protest the shooting death of Stephon Clark by Sacramento Police. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

The report conducted by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra recommends the Sacramento Police Department clearly define use of force standards, require yearly use-of-force training for all officers regardless of rank, restrict officers from using chokeholds or shooting at moving vehicles and create a board dedicated to analyzing use of force incidents.

In the aftermath of the March 2018 killing of Clark, who was unarmed and shot by two city police officers, Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn asked Becerra’s office to examine his agency and its use-of-force policies. Hahn’s department and the city faced extreme pressure from community activists and widespread protests after police killed another black man.

On Tuesday and just 24 hours after Clark’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and two officers, Becerra commended Hahn for asking for help. He said the investigation did find problems within the department but that Hahn and his nearly 700 sworn officers appear open to change.

“The Sacramento Police Department is not alone among communities trying to identify how to best ensure that policing is safe, effective and constitutional,” Becerra said during a press conference. “But Sacramento’s leaders should be recognized for reaching out and voluntarily requesting assistance in this matter.”

The 97-page report – which is unrelated to Becerra’s ongoing criminal investigation into the Clark incident – outlines six main areas of concern for the department and a total of 49 recommendations. It reviewed 18 different officer-involved shootings that occurred from April 2013 to March 2018, excluding the Clark shooting.

“We identified room for improvement in outdated use-of-force policies, we found a lack of standardization and rigor in use-of-force internal investigations and training and we found a lack of suitable measures to handle systemic information collection and accountability, particularly with regard to the personnel complaint process,” Becerra said.

The report says officers need clearer instructions on when to draw and use firearms and that the department should require medical assistance be rendered as soon as possible after use of force.

The Clark family claims in its federal lawsuit that the officers who shot Stephon Clark waited six minutes to perform life-saving measures on the 22-year-old. 

It also says the department should consider the city of Philadelphia’s policy that officers “exhaust” all other reasonable means before using deadly force.

“Philadelphia communicates a clear expectation to its officers. The department should follow suit and take step forward in its ongoing efforts to rely on deadly force only when necessary.”

Last year, the Legislature killed a bill that would have updated California’s 145-year-old “reasonable force rule” with a model similar to Philadelphia’s. The legislation was introduced shortly after Clark’s death.    

Becerra, a Sacramento native, said he hopes the department can adopt a “guardian mindset” that encourages officers to emphasize “communication over commands.”

Chief Hahn called the list of recommendations “robust” but was adamant that his department is already implementing some and making progress on others.

Hahn, 50, was raised in Sacramento and is the city’s first black police chief. He told the crowd his department will strive for transparency and “constant improvement.”

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said that despite the department’s troubled past, it and the city have a clear opportunity to implement the recommendations and become a model for other law enforcement agencies.  

“We’re not going to try and huddle in the middle of the pack,” said Steinberg, the former leader of the state Senate. “We are ready to lead the way to an era of policing where transparency, fairness and community partnership are central to everything we do.”

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