By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

In an 8-1 vote, the Sacramento City Council on May 4 approved a measure requiring Sacramento Police Department officers to implement use-of-force only as a “last resort.”

The city based its decision on a 55-page recommendation created by the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission (SCPRC). The commission’s recommendations would go the state’s beyond use-of-force law, Assembly Bill (AB) 392, also referred to as the Stephon Clark law.

“‘Last resort’ means peace officers shall use tactics and techniques that may persuade the suspect to voluntarily comply or may mitigate the need to use a higher level of force to resolve the situation safely,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said.

In the staff report, the Sacramento Police Department (SPD) expressed concern that last resort is inconsistent with its current policies. The report argued that AB 392, signed into law in September 2019 by Gov. Gavin Newsom, does not include last resort.

The day after the city council approved the recommendations, Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn said the policy has not taken into account that the officer has to make a split-second decision and that his or her life, as well as the community’s well-being, could be on the line.

“If the policy that (the city council and mayor) passed (May 4) requires that an officer use pepper spray, taser or baton in response, instead of saving his life by returning fire, we are not a safer city,” Hahn said.

Greg Jefferson, a member of the 11-member SCPRC and resident of Del Paso Heights neighborhood, disagrees with Hahn’s perspective of use of force. 

Jefferson said officers should be more meticulous in discerning whether a suspect is armed.

“If you don’t see a gun or weapon, well, you don’t pull your gun,” Jefferson said. “Basically what we are saying is that you cannot shoot an unarmed citizen.”

SB 230, also signed by the governor in 2019, requires each law enforcement agency to maintain a policy that provides guidelines on the use of force, utilizing de-escalation techniques and other alternatives to force when feasible.

SPD officials say that left undefined, the city’s last-resort policy would mean “something done only if nothing else works.” 

Some in the community, such as Catherine Charles, approve of the city’s action.

“I think the encouragement of alternate methods of situation diffusion (is) pertinent in maintaining both the safety and dignity of the officers and the community they serve,” said Ms. Charles, who lives in Greenhaven-Pocket. 

At the request of former Councilman Larry Carr, the mayor and city council established the SPCRC in 2016 to make recommendations regarding police policy, procedures, and best practices. The commission is required annually to report and make its recommendations to the mayor and city council.

The SCPRC also recommended that SPD provide the commission an opportunity to review and comment before SPD adopts or amends an order, an ethnic studies class for new SPD recruits, and a required drug test for officers after a use-of-force incident.

The commission also asked that potential hirees be subject to expanded background checks and review of their social media, and that all officers be required to have a college degree after joining the department.

Councilman Jeff Harris of District 3 was the only person who voted against the policy. The council and Steinberg did agree that they can adjust the recommendations in the future.

“Again, not the final word but (it’s) a good, positive direction that comes as close to creating consensus as we could,” Steinberg said.