(TNS) — The Sacramento, Calif., City Council will consider whether to overhaul the city’s 911 system and hire an inspector general for police oversight.
The meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Wednesday, July 1, and will be livestreamed on the city’s website.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg proposed both changes earlier this month amid protests across the country and in Sacramento against police brutality following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The 911 overhaul would shift the responsibility to respond to noncriminal calls away from police and instead to unarmed non-police trained professionals. Those calls would include those involving homeless people and people in a mental health crisis.
The idea could be modeled after the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) program in Eugene, Ore., or the Youth Justice Coalition in Los Angeles, though it will have differences, a report from Steinberg’s office released Tuesday said. In recent weeks, San Francisco Mayor London Breed has also announced the city is adopting a similar program, while Oakland is considering it.
To complete the overhaul, the city might create a new staffed city division and/or might start contracting specific referrals to qualified community-based organizations, the report said.
“The City of Sacramento currently dispatches only traditional emergency services including Police, Fire, and Emergency Medical Services to 911 calls,” the report, which Steinberg plans to present Wednesday, reads. “However, these responders often are not adequately equipped, authorized or trained to resolve certain emergencies or crisis situations such as behavioral health, addiction, and homelessness. Additionally, these traditional first responders do not have ready access to treatment options beyond jails and emergency rooms. The result is a cycle of futility as complex behavioral issues move through our streets, jails, and emergency rooms without resolution.”
In 2019, the Sacramento Police Department experienced a 14 percent rise in mental health 911 calls, the report said. Over the last 12 months the Fire Department experienced a 15 percent increase in mental health calls.
Officer Timothy Davis, President of the Sacramento Police Officers Association, has raised concerns with the mayor’s 911 proposal, saying it “clearly reflects a lack of understanding about the underlying issues.”
“Those in crisis need more services, not less,” Davis said in a statement. “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.”
To get the program started, Steinberg wants to direct the city to allocate $5 million in city funds. Steinberg also wants an initial assessment of noncriminal calls to be brought to the council for review within 45 days and again at regular intervals over the next two years “to inform an effective transition.”
Inspector General Proposal
Also under the mayor’s proposal, the new Inspector General position would make public findings on whether department policies were violated and whether officers should be disciplined. Then, the existing Sacramento Community Police Review Commission could take the Inspector General’s findings and make its own public recommendation on officer discipline or termination.
Davis said while the department is unafraid of review and transparency, the current police review commission “is not structured to take on the responsibility of impartial oversight”
“The commission’s members lack the knowledge and training to review police tactics, are not impartial, and are not representative of our community,” Davis wrote. “Fairness and due process demands a reviewing body to be impartial and to have a balanced viewpoint, free from conflicts of interest.”
Unlike the county’s inspector general, the city’s would be able to investigate personnel-related matters, thanks to a new state law, Steinberg said. The ultimate decision of whether to terminate an officer would remain with the city manager.
Black community leaders and activists have been demanding city officials “defund” the police, by reducing its all-time-high $157 million budget and allocating some of the funds toward services for youth and equitable economic development.
The call, echoed nationally, has caused Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to propose removing up to $150 million from Los Angeles’s $1.8 billion police budget. The city of Minneapolis is dismantling and recreating its entire police department.
In Sacramento, officials have not yet moved to remove police department funding, although Steinberg has said his 911 overhaul would result in at least $10 million being removed from the department over the course of about two years.
Calls to Defund the Police
Activists say the “defund” call is especially important in Sacramento, where Measure U sales tax revenue intended to uplift disadvantaged communities is now going to police, due to the coronavirus pandemic’s devastating impact on the city’s overall budget.
To make up for that, Steinberg has said he wants to use the roughly $89 million in federal coronavirus stimulus (CARES) money for projects to help disadvantaged communities that were also affected by the virus.
Measure U Citizens Advisory Commission Chairwoman Flojaune Cofer, as well as high-profile Black community leaders in the Build.Black Coalition, are calling for the city to remove $45.7 in Measure U revenue set to go toward the police department in the fiscal year that starts Wednesday. That figure includes Measure U revenue from both the 2012 and 2018 ballot measures.
The Build.Black Coalition, in a letter to the mayor, said they support the 911 overhaul but that the timeline needs to move faster.
“We believe the proposed 24-month time period for deeper reform is far too passive a response for a crisis that places the physical and economic lives of every Black resident in our city at risk,” the coalition wrote in a June 17 letter to the mayor.
Included in the $45.7 million in Measure U revenue going to the police department is $2.5 million to extend a ShotSpotter contract, which the council approved while Black Lives Matter protesters demonstrated at City Hall urging them not to. It also includes funds to expand the police department’s Impact Team, which responds to calls related to homelessness.
The police union contract, which gives officers 3.5 percent annual raises in December, is also contributing to the $157 million police budget.
Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, is demanding the council “defund” the Impact Team, and says a petition the organization has circulated online has gathered more than 600 signatures. They want the city to place at least $5 million in a civilian intervention team to respond to noncriminal calls.
On Tuesday, the council approved a move to update the police department’s use-of-force policy to align with a new state law, changing the threshold for deadly force from “reasonable” to “necessary.” The change, proposed by Councilman Larry Carr and Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, brings the city in line with the state law before the Jan. 1 deadline.
Councilman Allen Warren has proposed several police overhauls of his own, such as requiring officers hand out “how’s my policing” business cards; that the city make public the identities of officers who patrol each area; and that the department begin “mandatory, unpaid suspension for officers who shoot unarmed and non-threatening persons,” a news release from his office said.
Those changes will be discussed at the meeting Wednesday, as well as potential changes to the police review commission, presentations from Police Chief Daniel Hahn on “gang activity” and whether the city is complying with the 8CantWait initiative, according to the agenda.
“This is not the end,” Steinberg said Tuesday after the council approved the use-of-force change. “We’re going to talk about this at long, long length tomorrow, but this is good and important work.”
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