State DOJ Report Analyzes Use of Force in Sac PD

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Photo courtesy of the LA Times

(From Press Release) – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced the release of a California Department of Justice (DOJ) report on use of force-related polices, training, and practices within the Sacramento Police Department (SPD). The report is entirely separate from DOJ’s independent oversight into the shooting death of Stephon Alonzo Clark. The purpose of the report is to provide SPD with recommendations grounded in evidence and promising practices from around the country to help guide the reform efforts it has independently committed to pursue.

“We stand together today to take an important step forward to strengthen the trust that must exist between our communities and law enforcement officers as they work to protect all Californians,” said Attorney General Becerra. “This report will provide the Sacramento Police Department with a range of substantive recommendations to do just that. I thank Chief Daniel Hahn for opening the doors to his department for the Department of Justice to conduct this important, independent review.”

“We invited the California Attorney General to examine our agency because the Sacramento Police Department isn’t interested in being good enough, or in narrowly complying with the laws and policies governing our work,” said Sacramento Chief of Police Daniel Hahn. “We continue to seek ways to be a leader in law enforcement and to set an example of transparency, community involvement, and constant improvement.”

“Xavier Becerra and his agency have done our Police Department, our City, and our community a major service by helping push the change that Chief Hahn and the City Council started,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “I am confident the Police Department will embrace the findings of this examination and put them into action, ensuring that we are a city where police and community work in partnership and where we lead the way to fairness and transparency.”

Focusing on six key areas, the report made substantial recommendations, including:

  • More expressly connecting the sanctity of human life with use of force-related policies;
  • Prohibiting certain problematic uses of force, including needlessly high-risk force, such as chokeholds, and shooting at or from moving vehicles;
  • Establishing a Use of Force Review Board;
  • Requiring annual use of force training for all staff, regardless of rank;
  • Finding meaningful ways to incorporate community members into the lesson plan development process during training;
  • Conducting formal after-action reviews with officers, supervisors, and command staff, following officer-involved shootings;
  • Developing and implementing a community outreach plan that includes regularly scheduled and broadly accessible meetings with Sacramento residents; and
  • Working towards providing greater transparency by consistently releasing information regarding use of force and other related topics.

Overall, DOJ found SPD personnel to be professional, thoughtful, and committed to making change. Throughout the process, personnel at all levels of the police department have been open, cooperative, and receptive to evaluation and improvement. In order to conduct a thorough, expedient review that would be most useful to SPD and the community it is entrusted to serve, DOJ assembled a diverse team of experts, including lawyers within the DOJ’s Civil Rights Enforcement Section and outside experts from the private sector, academia, and government.

The report released today is the first of two looking into SPD’s use of force-related policies and systems. A subsequent report looking into use of force beyond officer-involved shootings and issues such as recruitment and hiring and prevention of bias will be made available after DOJ has thoroughly reviewed the relevant information.

Summary of Report

On March 27, 2018, following the fatal shooting of Stephon Alonzo Clark by members of the Sacramento Police Department (SPD), Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that the California Department of Justice (DOJ) would provide independent oversight of the Sacramento Police Department’s criminal investigation of the shooting.

Additionally, DOJ agreed to provide an independent assessment of the Sacramento Police Department’s use of force-related policies, training, and practices to help identify possible ways to achieve safer outcomes for community members and officers alike. DOJ is undertaking these activities at the request of Sacramento Chief of Police Daniel Hahn and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. SPD is not alone among communities trying to identify how best to ensure that policing is safe, effective, and constitutional. Sacramento should be lauded for reaching out and voluntarily requesting assistance in this critical endeavor. Inviting outside scrutiny of the department is a hallmark of strong leadership and sends an important signal about the department’s commitment to continued progress.

This report discusses the findings and recommendations of DOJ’s assessment of SPD’s use of force-related policies, training, and practices. The purpose of this assessment—which is entirely separate from the concurrent criminal investigation—is to provide the Sacramento Police Department (SPD) with recommendations grounded in evidence and promising practices from around the country to help guide the reform efforts it has independently committed to pursue. In conducting the assessment, DOJ was assisted by nationally recognized law enforcement leaders and experts with deep experience on the issues evaluated.

DOJ’s assessment and recommendations address the following six areas:

  1. Use of Force Policies
  2. Use of Force Reporting and Investigation
  3. Use of Force Training
  4. Officer-Involved Shooting Incident Review
  5. Personnel Complaint Procedures
  6. Community Engagement and Transparency

This report also includes a review of SPD’s officer-involved shootings that occurred from April 2013 through March 2018 and recommendations flowing from that assessment. Not including the shooting of Stephon Clark, a total of 18 officer-involved shootings occurred during this period.

KEY FINDINGS

Overall, DOJ found SPD personnel to be professional, thoughtful, and committed to making change. Throughout the process, personnel at all levels of the police department have been open, cooperative, and receptive to evaluation and improvement. At the outset of our review, we discovered that SPD’s command and supervisory staff had already begun thinking strategically about how to improve systems internally and build relations externally. And SPD has taken significant steps in this direction, recently creating a foot pursuit policy, strengthening its body worn camera policy, and engaging in enhanced transparency efforts, such as the timely public release of use of force statistics and audio and video recordings in officer-involved shootings and other critical incidents.

However, DOJ also observed that SPD has significant deficiencies in some of the operational systems assessed. For example, DOJ identified deficiencies ranging from outdated Use of Force policies, lack of standardization and rigor in use of force internal investigations and training, and lack of systemic information collection and accountability measures, particularly with regard to the personnel complaint process.

Focusing on the six areas assessed, DOJ identified a range of promising practices engaged in by SPD. DOJ also identified areas for improvement in each of the areas and has made a series of interrelated and mutually reinforcing recommendations intended to assist SPD in managing use of force and protecting community members and officers. The following is a top-level summary of DOJ’s recommendations to date. The recommendations, as well as a discussion of areas in which SPD excels, are set forth in more detail in the body of the report.

SUMMARY OFRECOMMENDATIONS

USE OF FORCE POLICIES

  • SPD’s use of force-related policies should more clearly define and describe when force is, and is not, authorized; create standards that more clearly define and build upon minimum legal requirements; and more clearly and consistently articulate a commitment to protecting the sanctity of life and de-escalation.
  • SPD’s use of force-related policies should affirm the importance of proportionality (the concept that the nature or severity of the force that an officer uses should be consistent with the nature of the threat that a subject poses) and require that officers exhaust all reasonably available alternatives before using deadly force.
  • SPD should prohibit certain problematic uses of force, including needlessly high-risk force, such as carotid restraints and shooting at or from moving vehicles.
  • SPD should develop and implement policies for each use of force instrument its officers are authorized to use, including batons, chemical agents, and empty hand tactics.

SPD should provide more guidance, clarity, and specificity to align with best practices in a variety of Use of Force policies, including:

  • Providing clear and succinct guidance on when officers may initiate a foot pursuit, including that the mere act of running may not constitute a sufficient basis to engage in a foot pursuit.
    • Providing specific guidance on when to unholster, draw, and exhibit firearms— ensuring that these instances are reported appropriately.
    • Including provisions in its firearm policy to better ensure the safety of other officers and bystanders.
    • Requiring that medical assistance be rendered as soon as reasonably possible after a use of force incident.
    • Requiring officers to intervene during a use of force incident when the force used is outside of departmental policy.
    • Modifying the use of Conducted Energy Devices and canines to reduce unnecessary injuries.

USE OF FORCE REPORTING AND INVESTIGATION

  • SPD should create a general order dedicated to use of force reporting, investigations and review.
  • SPD should categorize reportable uses of force into three levels and specify the reporting, investigation, and review process at each level, including any administrative investigation resulting from a use of force incident.
  • SPD should establish a multidisciplinary team to separately conduct both the criminal and administrative investigations of the most serious use of force incidents.
  • SPD should establish a Use of Force Review Board to review and analyze the results of these investigations so it can determine not only whether the use of force was within legal standards and SPD policy but also whether training and other Department-level considerations need to be addressed.
  • SPD should identify the nature and extent of the use of force information it will routinely release to the public.
  • SPD should consider engaging with an external agency regarding a potential role for that agency in future use of force investigations and in crafting improvements informed by serious use of force incidents.

USE OF FORCE TRAINING

  • SPD’s Training Academy should place greater emphasis on teaching officers to have a “guardian” mindset. SPD should establish a Curriculum Design Committee, Training Committee, and formalized process for instructor selection and development, to ensure that its Training Academy staff and the content of training initiatives consistently reflect and embody the Department’s mission, core values, and policies.
  • SPD should find meaningful ways to incorporate members of local colleges and universities, community-based organizations, and community members into the curriculum and lesson plan development process, as well as instructional activities.
  • SPD should ensure its use of force training emphasizes critical-decision making skills and require such training annually for all staff, regardless of rank.

INCIDENT REVIEW:OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTING AND RELATED TACTICS

  • SPD should develop a manual that governs both administrative and criminal investigations of officer-involved shootings.
  • SPD should require either a specialized Force Investigation Team or its Internal Affairs Division investigate every officer-involved shooting to determine if policies and/or training were violated during the incident.
  • Detectives who are assigned to conduct investigations of officer-involved shootings should receive relevant training.
  • SPD should standardize its investigative case files, and ensure that they include documents that will facilitate various kinds of reviews following the conclusion of the investigation.
  • SPD should conduct a formal after-action review, which includes supervisors and command staff, following every officer-involved shooting.
  • SPD should require supervisors and chain-of-command to review all use of force cases, including officer-involved shootings and serious uses of force.
  • SPD should ensure its officers are effectively employing cover, distance, and time tactics to minimize the need for deadly force.
  • SPD should assess its practices and provide officers with guidance on the discharge of firearms in situations that may endanger bystanders and other officers.

PERSONNEL COMPLAINT PROCEDURES

  • SPD should adopt a general order that outlines its complaint intake, classification, investigation and review processes.
  • SPD should require that all complaints be accepted and forwarded to Internal Affairs for tracking, review, and assignment. Certain types of serious complaint investigations should be required to be handled by Internal Affairs as a matter of policy.
  • SPD should establish a complaint classification system, that among other things, accounts for the seriousness of the offense.
  • SPD should develop a meaningful Early Intervention System.
  • SPD should clarify roles and responsibilities with respect to complaint procedures with the Office of Public Safety Accountability (OPSA) and consider entering into a memorandum of understanding with OPSA to memorialize that agreement.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND TRANSPARENCY

  • SPD should develop and implement a community outreach plan that includes regularly scheduled and broadly accessible meetings with Sacramento residents and community-based organizations.
  • SPD should strive for greater transparency by consistently releasing information regarding use of force and other related topics.

CONCLUSION

We applaud SPD for its express commitment to improvement and working with the community. DOJ hopes that this report is a useful tool for the city and SPD as they continue this work. We recommend that SPD—in consultation with community stakeholders, the Sacramento Police Officers Association, the Sacramento City Council, the Office of Public Safety and Accountability, and the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission—consider our recommendations for immediate implementation.


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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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2 thoughts on “State DOJ Report Analyzes Use of Force in Sac PD”

  1. John Hobbs

    It’s a start. We’ll see how truly transparent Hahn and company are when the next “use of force” event happens, I suppose. Now if DOJ would do this same analysis of the CHP….

  2. Craig Ross

    Not sure how helpful this all is: “Not including the shooting of Stephon Clark, a total of 18 officer-involved shootings occurred during this period.”. And a number of those are high profile and controversial.  Not sure how much of a start this actually is, it seems to me first you have to address the issue at hand, then the global problem.

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