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After Stephon Clark shooting, Sacramento police must improve use-of-force policies, California review says

After Stephon Clark shooting, Sacramento police must improve use-of-force policies, California review says
A boy joins others at a demonstration outside Sacramento City Hall in March 2018 to protest the shooting of Stephon Clark by a pair of Sacramento police officers. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Nearly a year after the fatal police shooting of Stephon Clark, a review of the Sacramento Police Department by the California Department of Justice found Tuesday that it must adopt sweeping changes, including improving use-of-force policies, officer training and investigations into officer shootings.

The independent review concluded that the Police Department needs clearer policies on when officers can use firearms, and said the department should ban “problematic” uses of force, including carotid restraints and shooting at or from moving vehicles.

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The report also recommended that the Police Department establish a “Use of Force Review Board,” require annual training of officers in the use of force and establish “a multidisciplinary team to separately conduct both the criminal and administrative investigations” of the most serious incidents.

At a news conference on the report Tuesday, state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said that his office looked at 18 police shootings to come up with what he called a “road map” for improving the Sacramento Police Department as a separate, ongoing criminal investigation into the Clark shooting is being conducted by his agency.

“You’ve got to start on that road to go from difficult times to a point of respect and ultimately, we hope, a point of trust,” Becerra said.

The review was done in response to the March 18 fatal police shooting of Clark, an unarmed African American man who was confronted by police in the backyard of his grandmother’s house as officers responded to a nighttime vandalism call.

Clark, who was found later to be holding a cellphone rather than a gun, was shot seven times by officers who said they thought the 22-year-old man was armed. His shooting garnered national attention and sparked local protests by activists, including Black Lives Matter.

Becerra said his independent review found that the Sacramento Police Department is professional and receptive to change, but that much more needs to be done to protect the public and officers from harm.

“We identified room for improvement in outdated use-of-force policies,” Becerra said. “We found a lack of standardization and rigor in use-of-force internal investigations and training. And we found a lack of suitable measures to handle systemic information collection and accountability, particularly with regard to the personnel complaint process.”

The 97-page report said department policy should be updated to better emphasize that the severity of force used by an officer should be proportional to the threat posed by the subject.

“SPD should prohibit certain problematic uses of force, including needlessly high-risk force, such as carotid restraints and shooting at or from moving vehicles,” the report said.

In addition, the department should implement new policies for the use of batons, chemical agents and tactics when the officer is not using a weapon.

Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, who requested the Justice Department review, said during the news conference with Becerra that his department has already taken steps to improve, noting that officers are equipped with body cameras, and is open to the suggestions in the state report.

“We are grateful to say that we have a robust list of recommendations we are taking to heart,” Hahn said.

The release of the report was attended by community leaders, including Anthony Sadler, a pastor with the Shiloh Baptist Church in Sacramento who has been a leading voice in supporting the independent review. Sadler said he found the recommendations encouraging.

“I believe the direction is right,” Sadler said.

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Becerra and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the report should be a model for state legislation that would improve policing in other departments in California.

The attorney general’s office plans additional reports that address issues such as the Sacramento Police Department’s recruitment and hiring of police officers and the reduction of bias by officers.

Steinberg said he has the “deepest sorrow” when police officers and young men and women in the community are killed.

“This is so important. It is life and death,” Steinberg said.

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