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Changing SPD Policy Language: A Necessity for Accountability

Thank you to Josh Harrop, our 2023 Sac State intern, for all his work on this piece!

During the 2/13/23 Sacramento Community Police Review Commission meeting, the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) gave a presentation on the state of police use-of-force policy within the Sacramento PD. This presentation (given by Allyssa Victory, ACLU Staff Attorney) was mainly focused on the implications of Sacramento City’s current use of force policies within its police department.

Although the Sacramento Police Department (SPD) has a use-of-force policy, the specifications of said policy omit crucial details that leave open the door for future injustices and police violence.

Victory started the presentation by outlining the advancements in Sacramento City’s pathways to police use-of-force policy reform - providing a brief summary & some key dates (pictured below).

In regard to use-of-force policy within the SPD, Victory specifically cited two different state laws that greatly contributed to reforms; AB 392 and SB 230.

AB 392 narrowed the use of deadly force to only immediate threats of danger or death to others, and SB 230 required that all use-of-force policies be published, along with any further guidelines on alternatives to any use of force.

Complete bans on categories of force & on certain techniques (i.e. chokeholds & carotid restraints) were also passed in 2020 (AB 1196 & AB 490).

In 2021 the Sac City Council adapted a revised use-of-DEADLY-force policy due to the work of the SCPRC as well as community stakeholders - read about it here.

The graphic below compares Sacramento's use-of-force policy compared to model language policies.

She pointed out that the SPD use-of-force policy (as compared to model language policies) does not have specific language for use of proportional force (specific language around this is recommended by the National Consensus Policy), zero guidelines for prohibited uses of force, and virtually zero affirmative requirements for de-escalation. Guidelines on model language for prohibited use-of-force and requirements for de-escalation policy are recommended in the CA Attorney General's reports (from 2019 & 2020) in order to ensure that all state law requirements are reflected in use-of-force policies. Victory suggested to the Commission that the policy language should be changed to capture the restrictions on the uses of force mentioned above, in order to adequately prohibit the reckless use of police violence.

Commissioner Bliss asked Victory about a SCPRC recommendation (that wasn't implemented) from 2020 to codify a zero-tolerance policy for the use of prohibited carotid restraint holds, and if that "zero tolerance" language would be aligned with model language guidelines on defining prohibited uses of force. Allyssa Victory confirmed that these explicit zero-tolerance restrictions need to be incorporated into the SPD's use-of-force policy. Uses of force of that nature are ILLEGAL.

Commissioner Carter also made some comments regarding the SCPRC's recommendations on Sac PD policy - specifically pointing out that that they have recommended that carotid holds, among other expressly illegal uses of force, be made explicitly prohibited. Though this request has been made by the Commission, it has yet to be heard or honored by the City - again displaying the City Council’s unwillingness to address the threat that police pose to public safety.

See the comments from Commissioner Bliss & Commissioner Carter below

What should we take away from this presentation?

This presentation highlighted the problems within Sacramento City’s police policies. Yes, the minimum requirements for defining what is permissible regarding police use-of-force are contained within policy, but the specific restrictions on force that would (hypothetically) keep the Sacramento community safe are missing.

Of course, this language should be immediately changed to reflect a policy on use-of-force that would close loopholes currently utilized by the police. However, the Commission has already made recommendations for this change, and the City Council has yet to take action. The City Council continues to disregard the Commission’s very purpose, feigning commitment to "public safety" and "police reform" while making no attempts to achieve those goals.

The City Council needs to address the language within the SPD's policy use-of-force policy immediately so that we are better able to hold the police accountable for their actions.

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