Sacramento’s Police Review Commission Has Spoken, But Are We Listening?

Sacramento has found itself in the spotlight in recent years after multiple incidents of citizen deaths by law enforcement. 

While the increased prevalence of cell phone camera footage has sparked a national conversation about police brutality and the use of force, names like Stephon Clark and Joseph Mann remind us that these events don’t always happen far from home. Since 2016, there have been 18 officer-involved shootings in Sacramento, all of which were deemed justified.

These incidents sparked some changes to the Sacramento Police Department, including requiring body cameras to be worn and footage of officer-involved shootings to be released within 30 days, as well as appointing an Inspector General to review shootings. 

This, along with the decision to create an Office of Community Response that will help field 911 calls and ensure law enforcement is only utilized when necessary, is helping to transform how Sacramento addresses public safety. Such changes have shown success in reducing adverse outcomes for communities of color and those struggling with their mental health. I recommend reading this recent in depth reporting on the topic.

The city also chose to move the Office of Public Safety Accountability directly under the City Council and establish the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission to provide recommendations on improving everything from interactions with the public to increasing diversity within its ranks. 

However, many advocates believe more reforms are necessary to begin rebuilding trust.

This makes sense considering members of the commission have spent significant time and energy reviewing hundreds of pages of material, listening to experts, and crafting specific and well-researched recommendations — only to have many still left unimplemented.

To their credit, the Sacramento Police Department has decided to change some policies, including banning the use of choke holds, changing procedures related to shooting at moving vehicles, and requiring police officers to render medical care as soon as possible.

Still, many recommendations are still waiting to be put into action. Some of these include requiring data collection and reporting on all “Use of Force” incidents, using force only as a last resort when all other reasonable alternatives have been exhausted, and requiring drug and alcohol testing of officers after an incident.

Mario Guerrero, chair of the Sacramento Police Review Commission, expressed at a recent meeting that he will be pushing hard for the City Council to take a formal vote on this issue. “We expect that our recommendations be taken seriously and be given a vote,” said Guerrero.

While most of the commission’s work has centered around changing the department’s Use of Force policies, another area of focus includes incentivizing a more diverse police force. Notably, they recommend creating long-term strategies to encourage hiring of more Black and Indeginous residents, women, and members of the LGBTQ community. New research suggests that increasing diversity in law enforcement can lead to better outcomes for communities of color and may help rebuild trust in neighborhoods that have been historically overpoliced.

This is a crucial moment for Sacramento to make meaningful change.

We have the opportunity to lead with compassion and make sure we prioritize public safety for everyone. If this city is serious about real reform and respecting the labor done by its own Police Review Commission, it’s recommendations should be taken into consideration and adopted as soon as possible. Otherwise, what was the point?

We can’t wait for another death to do the right thing.

You can read an overview of the Commission’s recommendations here.

Note: The Sacramento City Council will be considering these recommendations on April 13th at 2 PM.