Daniel Hahn To Become Sacramento’s “Top Cop”

Daniel Hahn will be sworn in as the Sacramento Police Department’s Chief of Police on August 11. He becomes the first African American Police Chief in Sacramento’s history. (OBSERVER photo by Robert J. Maryland)

SACRAMENTO — As a 16-year-old growing up in Oak Park, Daniel Hahn was going down a dangerous path that led him into the arresting arms of a Sacramento police officer on charges of assaulting an officer.

That day, while being arrested in his mother’s living room, turned out not to be a continuous trend, but the start of something new for the young Hahn.

Now, after nearly 30 years in law enforcement, Hahn will be sworn in as the Chief of Police for the Sacramento Police Department next week. Hahn becomes the first African American to head the department in the
City’s history.

The swearing-in ceremony will be held August 11 at 3:00 p.m. at the Sacramento State University’s University Union Ballroom. A community celebration will follow the ceremony at McClatchy Park.

Since March 2011, Hahn has served as the police chief of nearby Roseville in Placer County. Hahn was the administrator of more than 129 officers for the Roseville Police Department.  In Sacramento he’ll oversee about 700 sworn officers.

He spent 23 well-respected years as an officer for the Sacramento Police Department before ascending to the position of captain. He started with SPD two years after he was arrested as a juvenile.

Last week, The OBSERVER spoke with Hahn about becoming the “top cop” of a police department that has been under increased criticism over the last few years from people within and outside of the African
American community.

He shared his thoughts about improving community trust, protecting area residents and building a police force that reflects the diversity of the city.

OBSERVER: What does it mean to be a police officer and who influenced you to continue in this career?

Chief Hahn: Leadership matters. My passion is helping people and serving people because that’s the way I was raised. That’s the example I saw in my mother, Mary Jean Hahn. But I never dreamed it would be a police officer. It wasn’t something people in my neighborhood thought about. But I did and it will be 30 years in September.

I can literally tell you that, in addition to my mom being the biggest influence in my life, the community that I grew up with and the community that raised me — the Jackie Rose, the Mary Watts, the Chris Jefferson, and more —are those folks who taught me what it means to be an officer that cares about a community and is valued by the community.

OBSERVER: What does a good relationship between the SPD and the African American community look like right now to you?

Chief Hahn: First and foremost, we have to understand, realize, and admit that, not just the African American community, but in this country there has never been a great relationship between certain segments of our societies and our law enforcement. There just never has been. You can go back to the late 1800s to see the ramifications of those relationships. I would say, generalizing of course, that we can do better with our African American community. There is lot of history there and a lot of current-day circumstances.

We can’t cross our fingers and hope things get better.  We have to make a conscious decision, and what I mean by we is the community and police department, to do what it takes to make that relationship a better trusting relationship. The community should believe that the officers that serve them care about them just as much as any neighborhood in the city. We have to show that we care about their wellbeing.

We have a lot of negative aspects to our job. We have to arrest people and that’s a negative thing for some folks. We’re never going to get away from that. We’re alway going to have circumstances where we have to take people’s freedom away and take them to jail. But at the same time, that doesn’t have to be our only relationship with the community and it shouldn’t be our only relationship with the community. There are lot of great officers for Sac PD and they do a lot of great things. Conversely, officers, to be healthy and thriving, have tobelieve that the community cares about them too.

OBSERVER: There’s a lot of discussion about SPD’s pay scale is lower than other cities. How do you expect to address retention of officers?

Chief Hahn: Money is about respect. If you are not paid enough to feel that you are respected, it becomes an issue, but it doesn’t mean you have to be the highest paid department in California. The No. 1 factor for morale is that the place where you work is caring, thriving, happy, and you feel valued by the people both within the department and in the community. If you have that, then you feel like you’re making a difference. Right now, in certain neighborhoods, we don’t have that in Sacramento. Who wants to come to work and have negative vibes hurled at you by the community? We have to change that. But I think the union and city leadership are well on their way to work on that (competitive pay).

What it comes down to is why people leave the department. I would like to ensure that Sacramento, the police department, and the community is a great healthy place to work and they feel valued. Part of that value is compensation. I would like to take that off the table of why people leave. I don’t have a problem with people leaving because they want to be closer to home or their families. But if people are leaving because they don’t feel their city values them, they’re tired or worn out, that’s something I can help control and make better. Those are things I can work on. Sacramento is a great city and great community. If we have that, help improve that, we will not have any problems.

OBSERVER: You’re the first Black Chief of Police of Roseville, the first Black officer in history to work in the RPD. What can you do to attract more African Americans to work for SPD?

Chief Hahn:  That’s one of the biggest challenges in law enforcement today, not just recruiting for diversity, but recruiting period. There are a lot of things in California that has not changed over the years and we as a society have changed. So, I do believe we have to change in what we look for, who we look for, how we test, how we train, and how we recruit. All of those things.

When we talk about this community-law enforcement relationship and how troubling it is, we talk about in general about body cameras, dash cameras and oversight commissions. I’ll be honest with you, if that’s all we talk about, we’re going to be sitting here discussing the same exact circumstances five and 10 years from now. I support those things, body cameras and commissions, because they help with transparency and build trust. But both are after the fact, both are reactionary, and both are done in large cities and they didn’t prevent those things in those cities. If we are expecting something to change we are fooling ourselves. What
we really have to do is modify how we recruit, how we select, and howwe train people. That’s what I plan on doing. If you look at our (Roseville) roster today you will find five Black police officers. Not just any ole Black police officers, but talented and some of our best officers, including more women officers, which we still need a ton more.

Some people think it’s really tough to do and insinuate thatrecruiting for diversity is impossible. It’s not impossible. You have
to consciously want to do it.

OBSERVER: What are your thoughts when you see members of the community protesting against the work of police officers? How can they be made to understand how difficult an officer’s job is?

Chief Hahn: There are a lot of negatives and positives in what we do. We sit on both extremes, but nobody’s listening. How we are going to get through this is to stop blaming each other. I’ve worked with a lot of officers in Sacramento and here (in Roseville) and I can tell you that a vast majority of people really do care. That’s my job is to put them in a position where their hearts can show.

OBSERVER: What are your long-term and short-term goals for SPD?

Chief Hahn: Philosophically, it’s to make Sacramento PD the best possible police department for Sacramento. I don’t care at all about being the best police department in the country. Now if we can do some things that influence law enforcement in general, in the positive and start turning the corner, then absolutely I’d love to do that. But my main goal, long-term and short-term goal, is to build the relationship between the police department and the community so both the police department and community can do their jobs to make Sacramento a thriving place.

That’s where every community, every street, every corner, and everyhouse believes the Sacramento Police Department cares about them. We’ll do whatever we possibly can to improve their quality of life. If they believe that, not only the selective neighborhoods, but like in Del Paso Heights and Meadowview neighborhoods, when they believe that about their police department, not only will we thrive as a community, but individual families will do better and the officers themselves will do better.

OBSERVER: After you appeared on CNN to discuss how you depressed traffic violations in Roseville, people immediately said that you could be a police chief in any big city in the country. Why did you choose Sacramento?

Chief Hahn: One specific city manager often talked to me about applying to Los Angeles, San Francisco and all that. I often told him that I had no desire to do that. I have no desire to move to any other city. I’m from Sacramento and I’ll probably spend the rest of my days in Sacramento. Sacramento was the only other police department I was going to work for outside of Roseville. It’s pretty simple — it’s home. The opportunity to go home would’ve been impossible to resist.

I’ve had community leaders call me and ask me if I was interested in coming home and asked me to come home. These are community leaders who helped me grow up and helped me, my wife, daughters, to have the kind of life that I have now.

Sacramento is a place where the beliefs that I have and the skills that I have might be able to help. It’s that simple. The people in
Sacramento have been so supportive of me. Leadership matters.
By Antonio R. Harvey
OBSERVER Staff Writer