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Reform Is an Impossibility

What meeting are we talking about today?

At the June 20th Sacramento City Council meeting, the City's Office of Public Safety Accountability presented their Audit of the Sacramento Police Department (SPD): Misconduct Complaint Cases - Improper Search and Seizure. Predictably, the audit showed how the SPD has been violating people's 4th amendment rights, and the SPD's response showed that they are refusing to take any amount of responsibility for their actions. Read on for more info, context, and to see how our community showed up for each other and called out the SPD's violence, lies and harmful narratives.

What is OPSA?

The language in this section is pulled from the OPSA website.

The Office of Public Safety Accountability (OPSA) is a Mayor and City Council established office, their main responsibilities are:

(1) taking in complaints from members of the public against Sacramento Police (SPD) or Fire Department (SFD) employees

(2) makes sure that SPD and SFD investigates those complaints thoroughly and fairly

(3) recommends improvements to SPD and SFD policies and procedures.

The Director of OPSA is Dr. LaTesha Watson, and the office is under the direction, control and supervision of the Mayor and City Council. OPSA is not part of the police department. The Chief of Police answers to the City Manager, and the City Manager answers to the Mayor and City Council.

*editor's note: we have seen that the City Manager, Howard Chan (again, who supervises the police) has been consistently able to bully his way into doing whatever he wants, and has not been particularly inclined to rein in the police

OPSA, located in Historic City Hall (see below)

OPSA helps keep SPD and SFD accountable to the communities they serve by auditing the investigations into claims of police or fire department employee(s) misconduct to ensure that those investigations are fair and thorough. OPSA is free to agree or disagree with the decisions of SPD.

Some resources on OPSA:

*on this page you can find OPSA's annual reports going back to 2016

*note that this document lists Francine Tournour as the OPSA Director, that's incorrect, the current Director is Dr. LaTesha Watson, and Francine Tournour is serving as Sac County's Inspector General

What did OPSA bring to this meeting?

Mayor Steinberg opened the conversation, and issued his standard plea for decorum, and the hope that we can come together and find some middle ground/agreement (my god dude, not the time for it).

The OPSA presentation began with Dr. LaTesha Watson, Director of OPSA, introducing herself as well as the mission and function of the office, stating their objective:

To ascertain whether there is a systemic problem or isolated incidents in SPD reference officers engaging in pattern or practice of unreasonable stops, searches and seizures...

The presentation was then turned over to Sac City's Inspector General Dwight White to discuss the 109 misconduct complaint cases that were reviewed for this report:

  • He first summarized the SPDs own internal findings on the cases they looked at

    • 17 cases "sustained", meaning that the misconduct occurred in the way that it was alleged

    • 4 "exonerated", meaning that it occurred but was justified

    • 2 "not sustained", meaning the evidence was insufficient

    • 86 "unfounded", meaning evidence showed the alleged misconduct did not occur

    • There were several instances where SPD changed their initial disposition of "unfounded" to "sustained" after detailed discussions with OPSA

Randomly stopping Black and Hispanic people for minor traffic offenses is not the most efficient way to get guns and drugs off the streets - Dwight White

Digging into the report's findings

The following language around the need for police oversight has been pulled directly from the OPSA report:

The current climate of policing in the United States (U.S.) demand the institutionalization of police reform efforts combating systemic racism, excessive uses of force, unreasonable stops and searches, and the lack of police accountability

The report continues

Oversight agencies throughout the U.S. have experienced challenges fulfilling their mission and meeting set objectives due to the police, police unions, and other interest groups who have worked to successfully block oversight practitioners from performing their job duties and responsibilities. Oversight practitioners are undermined consistently by law enforcement

In 2022, OPSA began to notice a pattern of Fourth Amendment violations during police-citizen interactions - particularly with Black and Latino community members. From this, an external audit was conducted, investigating 109 improper search & seizure misconduct complaint cases from June of 2020 - June of 2022.

In total OPSA produced 10 findings (all of them important); a few of them are discussed in more detail below, and full discussion around them can be found in the report.

*in the report, all 10 findings include much more detail, as well as recommendations that aren't listed in the brief summaries below; recommendations all have in common that the SPD needs to create detailed and clear policies around the areas in which they violating people's rights...sound familiar?

Finding 2: Automatic Pat Downs of Citizens are in Direct Conflict with the 1968 United States Supreme Court Decision, Terry v. Ohio

  • Automatic pat downs are unconstitutional, Terry v Ohio requires a person to be reasonably believed to be "armed and dangerous" to justify a pat down, but there are many examples of Sacramento cops just doing pat downs as a matter of course without any justification

Finding 4: Rights of Non-Probation Citizens were Violated During Probation Waiver Searches

  • Getting on probation frequently requires the signing away of 4th amendment protections (horrifying), but this has frequently led to police searching protected areas belonging to, for instance, family members of the person on probation

Finding 6: SPD Does Not Have a Policy Regarding Handcuffing Minor Children

  • SPD has no policy regarding handcuffing minor children

    • As this finding was presented before the council, someone from the audience shouted out "lifelong trauma", Steinberg did a classic gavel banging to silence them, but the presenter (Dwight White) said "I mean that's true, it does cause lifelong trauma"

    • In 2022, SPD showed up at a residence in the middle of the night, snatched a 10 year old girl from her home while her mother was at work, and handcuffed her

      • The video of this incident was played during the OPSA presentation, it can be found in the linked article above

      • When the cops examined this complaint themselves, they labeled it "exonerated"

    • Atrocities such as this (amongst the innumerable others) should be kept in mind, front and center, any time we talk about the police. Any time we talk about their policies, their budget, their idea of "public safety", keep in mind their flagrant disregard for human life, for the safety of a child

Finding 7: Warrantless Entry into Citizens’ Homes and Conducting Searches without Sufficient Legal Authority

  • Cops will be told that a suspect isn't home but will enter the house anyway to look for the suspect, which the Supreme Court has ruled is a no go

    • This is a big issue with "welfare checks" in particular: these checks have been a long-time exception to the rules requiring a warrant, but CA Supreme Court ruled in 2019 (People v Aveda) that you have to actually perceive an emergency situation to enter a home, you can't just break down the door because the neighbor called and was worried - cops have been found to violate that ruling and enter homes anyway

Finding 9: Stops Based on Minor Traffic Infractions Such as Improper Window Tint with No Apparent Intention to Enforce the Vehicle Code or Ticket the Driver Amount to Pretextual Stops

  • Sacramento cops are making a bunch of pretextual stops with large racial disparities

    • These stops are occurring most frequently in poor neighborhoods

  • Example of violations around pretextual stops: when cops stop people for improper window tinting, they don't actually test the window tint at all, instead they often "initiate an unrelated investigation that had nothing to do with the window tint"

List of remaining findings:

Finding 1: SPD Does Not Have a Current, Stand-Alone Policy Regarding the Fourth Amendment and Includes Search and Seizure.

Finding 3: SPD Officers Improperly Searched or Seized Citizens Cell Phones in Direct Violation of State and Federal Laws.

Finding 5: Inconsistent Vehicle Tow Procedures.

Finding 8: SPD Does Not Have a Policy Regarding Officers Interacting with Citizens Holding a Concealed Carry Weapon (CCW) license.

Finding 10: Internal Reviews by Supervisors do not Consistently Identify Fourth Amendment Violations.

The report also contains breakdowns & graphics around the following:

Statistical Findings: Complainant Demographics

  • Age

  • Gender

  • Race

Complaint Location

  • City Council District

  • SPD Command Area

  • SPD Beat Locations

  • Officer Assignment

Complaints by SPD Police Beat Locations

Dr. Watson wrapping things up

  • Dr. Watson pointed out that, even from the perspective of the police, interactions like this do a lot of (justified) harm to public perception of them, and that this is certainly a factor in the difficulty cops have with recruitment

  • She also mentioned limitations of the audit:

    • It only covered 3 years, there were a small number of cases, and there were issues caused by lack of resources/capacity in her office

    • Because the audit was dependent on internal complaint information only, incidents that were not reported by community members were excluded

      • There is a lot of fear within the community about making complaints - folks worry about retaliation

  • Next steps

    • Acknowledge areas in need of improvement

    • Implement constitutional policing practices

    • Establish true collaboration with oversight entities

    • Action from council

What was SPD's response?

SPD Chief Lester presented SPD's rebuttal:

  • She began by talking about the importance of public trust in the police, talked about acknowledging shortcomings but only cited the 17 cases where the police agreed that misconduct occurred

  • "Cops are people too"

  • Essentially she said a bunch of trash, trying to minimize the complaints, all while insisting "we take this very seriously"

  • Great question from CM Valenzuela, basically, Lester claimed that in several of the cases where they disagreed with OPSA findings, they found a bunch of case law to justify their actions, but Katie pointed out that those cases are largely lower court cases, and wouldn't override higher court decisions. As you can imagine, Lester gave a series of non-answers as a response

  • Back to Chief Lester, who then claims that they DO agree on the recommendations even if they don't agree with all the findings

    • HOWEVER, she then goes on to say that SPD already does the trainings that are being recommended (insert eye roll here)

    • Lester's only commitment was to "research implementation of the proposed policy changes"

How did the Council respond?

Steinberg actually got into some good stuff, really calling out that this is a race issue and that there is plenty of other evidence besides just this one audit showing that SPD has a race issue. Unfortunately due to Steinberg's decision to try and get Chief Lester to admit to lying about this (as opposed to directly calling her out on her lies), she was able to avoid directly addressing the issue.

Really great stuff from Councilmember Katie Valenzuela - she asked Chief Lester if she believes in the mission of OPSA - Lester responds by saying a bunch of nonsense that seems to say "yes" but doesn't really say anything at all.

  • Valenzuela asks why they took 6 weeks to submit their response to the audit if she does, in fact, believe in OPSA's mission. More rambling from Lester as a response, which boils down to "we need more data to know why these disparities exist"

Mai freakin' Vang everyone!!! Some quotes from CM Vang can be found below:

Policy is great but no policy or ordinance can do justice if we have city staff that don't believe in institutionalized racism
There IS a clear pattern of 4th amendment rights violations that's happening right here in our city, especially within our Black and Latino communities citywide
This really starts with us as leaders on this council acknowledging the harm that we are all a part of...everyone on this council do need to recognize our own role in historical a system we have failed

CM Vang continues:

  • She calls out that Chief Lester stated that she doesn't think the problems are systematic

  • Points out that the data is only from residents who reported, so we don't know how many other instances occurred

  • Adds additional direction for City Manager (confirmed by Steinberg), because SPD is under his supervision, to do the following:

    • City Manager should actually be working with OPSA

    • SPD is should be cocreating recommended policy with OPSA & the community

    • Independent outside evaluation of any training conducted by SPD should be implemented

    • She also asks for a progress report from City Manager on the following:

      • Timeline from SPD on implementing OPSA recs

      • Laying out/creating an internal MOU for how SPD & OPSA should work together in implementing policies

CM Vang's full comments & the exchange around providing the City Manager with direction can be found in the video below.

CM Jennings asked Dr. Watson & Dwight White about why OPSA is asking for 30 days instead of 14 days to review cases that get sent to them. Dr. Watson's answer is basically that they shouldn't have a timeline at all, but SPD was rejecting their reviews by saying "oh we closed that case because you took too long". Big respect to Dr. Watson here, she's not taking any of PD's crap.

  • Jennings also asked Dr. Watson to "clarify" what OPSA means in its recommendations when they say SPD needs to develop "clear policy" - Dr. Watson and White let him know that the SPD needs clear, accessible, and thorough policies for each specific topic; policies that do not have loopholes, as opposed to broad generic policies (which they have now) that cover many topics

  • Dr. Watson and White also clarified that the SPD has a manual (which just includes directives on how to complete tasks & does not include legal standards) for search and seizure, but not a stand alone policy

  • Dr. Watson points out (again) that accountability and enforcement matters when it comes to the police, that the SPD will not reform itself based on trainings and recommendations

Policy and training alone mean nothing in policing - Dr. LaTesha Watson

Steinberg attempted to step in and nail the cops down on a specific commitment to make actual policies, and stop trying to circumvent people's constitutional rights.

  • Lester says something along the lines of "we can't make specific policies because laws keep changing and we'd have to keep updating those policies" wah wah its so hard to be a cop, the laws keep trying (in theory) to stop us from brutalizing the public!!!

No vote was held, no motions were made.

  • The only outcome was that the council gave direction to PD to come back with a timeline for when the reforms will be implemented (to our knowledge there was no requirement established to actually implement ALL the recs)

Got a whole lot of nothing from other councilmembers.

What did the community have to say?

Our community showed up in a beautiful, moving way during this meeting. Many, many people made public comment, not only to call out the police and our city council, but to share their stories and experiences, so that they may be heard, that we all may learn from them, and that we may all do our best to hold and care for each other.

We'll end with a few powerful public comments

Included in the first video are comments from:

Meg White, who spoke about her own experience of being assaulted by the police, and not reporting it due to fear of retaliation:

"people didn't stop complaining because things got better, they stopped complaining because we were beat into submission"

Samuel, who tries to talk about the people being killed and harmed by the Sacramento police but breaks down crying, and is not allowed to finish their comment

Amreet Sandhu, who states:

“I don’t know why the police chief doesn’t understand the 4th Amendment”

Corrine, who very clearly states just how bad of a health problem the police are to Sacramento residents, tragically she is cut off mid-sentence

Wendell, city employee, who came for an unrelated reason but was moved to comment (and to tears) by the video of the SPD handcuffing a 10 year old child

Included in the second video are comments from:

Carli, who calls out the council out for waiting until after the budget process to agendize this presentation

Francesca, who talks about how, even as a privileged white woman, she has been mistreated by the police, and specifically calls out her councilmember, Kaplan, for approving the massive police budget

Casey, who speaks about how the idea of “police oversight” is mostly performative, and is not sufficient; goes through a strong list of demands

Margot, who specifically calls out councilmembers for taking police money during their election campaigns

Aisha, who represents the city’s African-American Employees Leadership Council made comment, and by doing so demonstrated how city employees are supporting OPSA on this

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