The Sacramento City Council on Tuesday night adopted new policy language requiring police officers to only use deadly force “as a last resort.” But it’s not the exact language submitted by a citizen oversight group, which will have a chance to weigh-in on the change to its recommendation for police reform.
With an 8 to 1 vote, with Councilman Jeff Harris voting no, the City Council approved the change in Sacramento’s use-of-force policy.
“Thank you very much, everybody for a very important decision tonight,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg told the council members after a nearly two-hour discussion. “Again, not the final word. But a very good positive direction that came as close to a consensus as I think we could.”
The policy language adopted by the City Council Tuesday was submitted as a proposal by the mayor and added to the meeting agenda on Monday.
“Deadly force shall only be used as a last resort. Last resort means that 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,” according to Steinberg’s proposal.
Since 2018, the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission has been recommending that the city adopt language similar to San Francisco’s that ensures deadly force be used only as a last resort. That was one of the key recommendations the commission’s chairman, Mario Guerrero, again submitted for a vote at the City Council’s April 13 meeting.
Police commission ‘last resort’ recommendation
The commission’s recommendation calls for using deadly force “only as a last resort and when reasonable alternatives have been exhausted or are not feasible and the officer reasonably believes, based on the totality of the circumstances, that such force is necessary.”
The mayor said he changed the commission’s language to strengthen the commission’s intent by defining what “last resort” meant using the substance of a state law, Senate Bill 230, which is supported by the Sacramento Police Department. That law was passed as a companion bill to Assembly Bill 392, which overhauled California’s police deadly force law.
“The ‘tactics and techniques’ embodied in SB 230 are not prescriptive. They do not require the officer to exhaust every conceivable option in a split second, the main concern expressed by (the Sacramento Police Department),” Steinberg wrote in his proposal to the City Council. “However, the statute does require an officer to use their training and purposely de-escalate if at all possible.”
The mayor said the Sacramento Police Department has expressed concern that “last resort” is not consistent with current policies, arguing that AB 392 doesn’t include “last resort,” and leaving it undefined would mean “something done only if nothing else works.”
The mayor told the council members during Tuesday’s meeting that he was seeking “reasonable consensus” with his proposal by adopting police reform that will save the lives of civilians and police officers.
“There’s a balance here, there’s always a balance,” Steinberg said during the meeting. “We’re trying to save lives.”
Councilman says mayor’s proposed language is ‘tenuous’
Councilman Harris, who represents East Sacramento and South Natomas, said he appreciated the mayor’s attempt at compromise, but “words make a big difference.” He said the mayor’s proposed language was still “tenuous,” and the City Council has not heard enough analysis on this proposal, leaving the city vulnerable to litigation..
Harris agreed with some community advocates and asked the City Council to table the proposal until the police commission had a chance to weigh in on the mayor’s changes to its “last resort” recommendation. He also also asked for the City Attorney to do its own analysis of the mayor’s proposal. Harris’ motion was voted down 7 to 2, with the only yes votes made by himself and Councilman Rick Jennings, who represents the Pocket, Greenhaven and Valley Hi neighborhoods.
“It affects everybody, deeply and profoundly. And I am not comfortable moving forward on this language tonight,” Harris told the council members before the vote.
The mayor said the city has already had plenty of discussion on this issue.
“The biggest frustration is that we don’t make a decision,” Steinberg told the council members. “We ought to make the effort to do the right thing and bring everyone together.”
The Sacramento Community Police Review Commission submitted at the April 13 City Council meeting a 55-page report to the City Council with recommendations for police reform. It was the third time in three years the commission has submitted a list of recommendations, and the City Council had failed to vote on any of them until Tuesday night.
Police commission’s language ‘much stronger’
Councilwoman Mai Vang, who represents the south Sacramento neighborhoods of District 8, said the police commission’s original proposed language is still much stronger, ensuring that every possible alternative to deadly force should be taken before police use lethal force. She’s concerned whether the true meaning of “last resort” will be implemented by law enforcement.
“As one of the callers mentioned today, this is truly of matter of life or death,” Vang said during the meeting. “When we say ‘last resort,’ we really mean ‘last resort.”
Vang asked for the City Council to adopt the commission’s originally recommended language. Her motion was voted down 7 to 2, with yes votes from herself and Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela.
Before supporting Vang’s motion, Valenzuela, who represents downtown, midtown and Land Park, asked for the City Council to adopt the mayor’s proposed language. But she also asked for the police commission at its meeting next week to review the mayor’s changes and offer the oversight group a chance to recommend any further refinement to the approved deadly force language.
Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, who represents North Natomas, supported the mayor’s proposal that sets a standard that keeps civilians and police officers safe.
“Being progressive means taking steps when we can,” Ashby said during the meeting. “I do think this is the right moment to make progress on this issue.”
Mother says city must comply with ‘Stephon Clark Law’
Along with Vang, Ashby said during during the meeting that it’s important the city implement verbatim language from AB 392, commonly known as the “Stephon Clark Law.” The police reform law was named after Clark, the unarmed Black man who was fatally shot by Sacramento police officers in 2018 in his grandmother’s backyard.
The issue was raised when Sequette Clark, Clark’s mother, and others called into the City Council to raise concerns that the Sacramento Police Department has not complied with state law by fully implementing AB 392.
AB 392 directed law officers to use deadly force only when “necessary,” based on the totality of circumstances they encounter. SB 230, once a competing law favored by police chiefs and unions, was amended in April 2019 to support AB 392 considered one of the strictest in the country governing police use of force.
California Senate Bill 230, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September 2019, finances new training for police and requires police departments to rewrite their use-of-force policies to comply with the overhaul of the state’s deadly force law, Assembly Bill 392.
AB 392 defines “necessary” as when officers or the public face an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm. The law requires evaluating an officer’s conduct before and after deadly force is used and whether deescalation techniques were attempted as an alternative. But it also allows managers to consider “all facts known to the peace officer at the time.”
As for the other police commission recommendations the City Council has not yet voted on, City Manager Howard Chan said during Tuesday’s meeting that city staff should be able to produce reports on those recommendations for a vote by June 1.
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