Sacramento funds new jobs to boost police, fire department oversight. Here’s what they’ll do

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The Sacramento City Council on Tuesday approved funding for a dozen new jobs to improve oversight of community complaints about the city’s police and fire departments and to ensure policies reflect the best national practices.

Six of the 12 new jobs will be in the city’s Office of Public Safety and Accountability, which monitors investigations of citizen complaints. The office, which currently only has five staff members, was only able to review 64% of police misconduct investigations in 2021 and 52% last year, according to the city staff report.

LaTesha Watson, director of the Office of Public Safety and Accountability, said the six new staff members she requested will allow the office to fulfill its directive to monitor, track and review all completed misconduct investigations concerning employees at the police and fire departments.

“What we want to do is improve our public safety delivery services to the Sacramento community,” Watson said in a city news release. “That’s our entire goal.”

The total cost for the new city jobs will be $1 million for this fiscal year and $1.8 million annually from then on. The money will come from Sacramento’s general fund.

The council voted 5-3 to approve the funding. Councilmembers Sean Loloee, Katie Valenzuela and Mai Vang voted against the funding request. Councilmember Caity Maple abstained from the vote, saying she wasn’t comfortable approving more funding for police even though she supports more oversight.

Loloee said this request for more money from taxpayers is being made without knowing whether it will work to improve oversight. He said he doesn’t think the situation will be resolved by merely hiring more personnel.

“I think our OPSA operation is working but also is waiting for that ‘gotcha’ moment,” Loloee said during Tuesday’s meeting. “I think our Police Department is working hard but is also trying to fight back — not fight back, to push back — some of the comments by OPSA. So, it becomes a very unprofessional environment.”

Even with these additional employees, Loloee said he believes OPSA will be complaining a year from now that it’s not receiving information from police in a timely manner, and the Police Department will complain it doesn’t have enough personnel to do that.

The city established OPSA in 1999 with focus on law enforcement. It added oversight of the Sacramento Fire Department in 2004.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg said debates around police on this council boil down to basic views on whether the city has a Police Department that is working the way they want it to work.

“We all have different positions. Mine is that the Police Department needs real improvement here, and that we have a very good police force at the same time,” Steinberg said shortly before Tuesday’s vote. “These are the kinds of actions that I think are going to enable us to actually get to where we want to go, which is to be able to have more independent oversight over a department.”

Of the six remaining new jobs, four will be in the Police Department. Two others will go to the City Attorney’s Office, which provides legal services to the Police Department and OPSA.

City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood said her office will see its workload increase as a result of the funding approved this week. Her office will add two senior deputy city attorneys.

Sacramento Police officers investigate a shooting on Cantalier Street and El Camino Avenue in Del Paso Heights on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. Paul Kitagaki Jr./

Sacramento Police officers investigate a shooting on Cantalier Street and El Camino Avenue in Del Paso Heights on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. Paul Kitagaki Jr./[email protected]

New jobs for Police Department

The four new jobs for the Sacramento Police Department will be filled by unsworn staff assigned to a new unit at the department called the Internal Compliance Office, which will be overseen by a new compliance manager who reports directly to Police Chief Kathy Lester.

The Police Department created the new unit following an audit released in June by the Office of Public Safety and Accountability. The audit found several instances in which police officers appeared to violate the Fourth Amendment and act with racial bias.

Nineteen drivers pulled over by police during a two-year span for tinted windows were either Black or Latino, according to the audit. In the majority of the 19 window traffic stops included in the report between June 2020 and June 2022, the officer did not ask about the window tint — though the report did not give a specific number. The audit contends the stops appeared to be a “pretext to initiate an unrelated investigation.”

The police chief has said her officers issued 445 citations for illegal window tint during that two-year period. In her response to the audit, Lester said the department is examining its enforcement protocols including pretextual traffic stops and a department-wide effort is underway to support intelligence-based policing.

The Police Department and OPSA on Tuesday presented a joint report to the City Council on requests for the new jobs.

Valenzuela was critical of the joint presentation, calling it “incomplete” since it was done without input from the city’s Community Police Review Commission, a city council-appointed citizen panel tasked with reviewing and recommending Police Department policies, practices and procedures.

“And it feels intentional,” Valenzuela said. “It feels glaring, and I don’t understand why that happened … This feels like we were looking for certain answers.”

Instead, the Police Department gathered about 30 to 40 community members for a meeting of several hours to provide input. Some of them, who have worked with police before through community groups, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I thought it would be really important to get just kind of a grassroots approach and get some feedback,” Lester said. “Certainly, I understand it’s not scientific necessarily. But I do appreciate the time and effort they spent. I think they really did give us a good voice for the community.”

Pretextual traffic stop policy

A 190-page report of the audit contained 19 recommendations for training and policy updates. At Tuesday’s council meeting, Lester said her department reviewed the recommendations, and that eight of them are already in practice or in the process of an update; 10 will be adopted in part or in full.

One of the recommendations, updating the pretext stop policy, was being researched and under consideration. Lester said her department is tracking pending legislation on that issue, and they want to make sure they are compliant with the law.

Lester said the newly funded unit in her department would be able to compile better data and improve public transparency. Other law enforcement agencies, including the San Francisco Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, are using similarly assigned staff to further the goal of police reform; research and develop policies; and ensure compliance with laws and regulations.

“It’s about being more proactive, being more modern and really bringing in the best practices,” Lester said in the city news release.

EMEA Tribune is not involved in this news article, it is taken from our partners and or from the News Agencies. Copyright and Credit go to the News Agencies, email [email protected]

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