SACRAMENTO – In a bold move to curb police brutality and excessive force by a city department that, some community members allege, has committed both offenses, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg released proposals to reform the Sacramento police this week.
Significantly, in a plan he has consulted with city attorneys and SPD Chief Daniel Hahn, Steinberg wants to relinquish officer-involved shooting investigations and excessive abuse complaints by citizens to an Inspector General.
After watching weeks of nationwide protests including a “die-in” with thousands of area residents near his home, Steinberg has had an epiphany of sorts.
And police reform is now his way to resolve it.
“Our community is crying out for zero tolerance of police brutality in any form of racism and it is a call being repeated throughout our entire country,” Mayor Steinberg said at a news conference at City Hall on June 15. “Our community and country is right. George Floyd’s death was not only a vicious murder. It also tore open the fear and the trauma that African Americans experience far too often in their daily lives.”
Steinberg wants to build an office for an Inspector General, a position that would carry the duty of reviewing shootings, physical altercations, and other aggressions that may cause bodily harm or death.
Traditionally, the Sacramento Police Department polices itself with internal investigations that oftentimes result favorably of the accused police officer or officers. The inspector general is expected to be impartial across the board.
Mayor Steinberg also voiced that he intends to confer with the California Department of Justice (DOJ) to apply what changes he is able to make legally. The DOJ had already reviewed the Sacramento Police Department’s policies after the shooting death of Stephon Clark in 2018.
“The inspector general will be charged with interviewing witnesses, issue subpoenas for relevant evidence, and most important, publicly announce their findings, conclusions and recommended discipline if warranted,” Steinberg said. “We will look at the department of justice review of our police department to see what changes we still need to make.”
The inspector general would make a report of its discoveries, and then report them to the citizen’s police commission, the general public, and the city council.
He also proposed a fundamental change in the duties of Sacramento police officers so that they would no longer be required to respond to 911 calls that don’t actually involve a crime. Those duties would be shifted over the course of 24 months to a new City corps of non-law enforcement responders. The funding currently allocated within the police department to answer these calls would be shifted to this new unit. The amount of funding to be shifted would be determined over the next 60 days after a detailed evaluation of the number and percentage of calls currently unrelated to the commission of crimes.
This systemic shift would take place over 24 months. To demonstrate the importance of immediate change, the mayor proposed appropriating $5 million from the existing City general fund to establish the new non-law enforcement responder unit.
“We’ve been hearing people call for ‘defunding the police,’ but I think instead of starting the conversation by focusing on money, it’s more productive to talk about the function of the police and let the money follow the function,” Mayor Steinberg said.
“Today the police are our default first responders for every kind of crisis and risky situation. We put them in positions that are often dangerous for them and for our community. We need to fundamentally change what we ask police to do,” Steinberg said during the news conference that also included a virtual setting for the media.
The Sacramento Police Officers Association is not entirely on board with Steinberg’s proposals, citing that they reflect “a lack of understanding about the underlying issues,” the SPOA said in a written statement. The police union believes it should be part of the process from the beginning to end.
“Those crisis need more services, not less,” the SPOA stated. “Taking the responsibility away from police officers and giving it to social workers will not solve anything. We need a partnership between law enforcement and social workers, as well as triage centers and long-term services to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.”
Steinberg’s proposals arrive on the heels of the community’s outcry to defund the police and allocate the resources back into social programs. Steinberg has said publicly that stripping SPD of funds is a non-starter.
The community, especially the Black people living with and sharing common attitudes and interests, praised Steinberg’s call-to-action. Greater Sacramento Urban League President and CEO Cassandra Jennings and local NAN president Dr. Tecoy Porter verbally applauded the mayor.
“I believe that the changes mayor Steinberg and our city council are calling for in the creation of the independent Inspector General position … and the creation of a new city corps of non-law enforcement responders … are important and significant first steps,” said Dr. Porter.
“The time is past due that we have fundamental reform of policing and public safety so that all people are protected equally instead of just a few,” Dr. Porter added.
“And while I support these proposals by the mayor and council, I want to challenge them — and all of our government officials — to not stop, pause or delay this process. We must seize this moment to make change quickly to root out this virus of systemic racism within the city that we all love, Sacramento,” he added.
Sacramento Police Review Commissioner Mario Guerrero, OBSERVER Publisher Larry Lee, Sierra Health Foundation CEO Chet Hewitt, Kevin Bracy of Reach One Alliance, and Sacramento City Councilmembers Allen Wayne Warren and Rick Jennings were among those who showed their support of the mayor’s proposals that will be discussed during city council meetings in the next few weeks.
Mayor Steinberg also has asked the police department and new OPSA Director Latesha Watson to review the Eightcantwait.org model recommendations for police policies and procedures and report back to the City Council on whether Sacramento complies with all eight policies, and if not, what needs to be changed.
In addition, Mayor Steinberg endorsed AB 1506 by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, which would create an independent review unit within the state Attorney General’s office to review use-of-force cases and pursue criminal charges. Mayor Steinberg will also bring the bill to the City Council for endorsement by the full body and work to get it passed in the Legislature.
By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer