Raised in Oak Park and a Sacramento State graduate, Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn brings a lifetime of local experience to the job. Rich Ehisen sat down with Hahn last January — exactly two months prior to the officer shooting of Stephon Clark — to discuss Hahn’s priorities for our April issue, which went to press just days after details of the shooting began to surface. We have updated the Q&A with a follow-up interview that took place in early April.
Update: April 5
How do you feel the Sacramento Police Department’s handling of Stephon Clark’s death so far compares to the handling of Joseph Mann’s death in 2016?
I wasn’t here in 2016, so I don’t know all the details behind that, but I would say there’s a lot of changes that have happened. For example, even a year ago, after that, officers didn’t have body cameras, we didn’t release video. Typically, in most departments, you have officer-involved shootings, you don’t hear a whole lot about facts until the investigation is over and the D.A.’s office has rendered their decision on criminal charges or not. I think that alone has been drastically different.
All our officers do have body cameras, so videos exist and we released it within three days. I’ve been asked by other media outlets well, that seems like that inflamed the community a little bit when the video was released. And I would say, yeah, I think that’s a distinct possibility that might have happened. But I think in the long run, it’s better for us, because it’s very transparent and people can watch for themselves with their own eyes what happened. Even though it’s not all the evidence — the video’s not every bit of evidence on any scene — but it is seeing something with your own eyes, so I think that’s healthy for our community, and very transparent.
My responsibility is to ensure we get people in the department that have the compassion and the character needed to provide the services our communities deserve, and that if somebody slips through and comes onto the department that doesn’t have that, we handle it.
So those things alone are different: the fact that we have cameras, the fact that we actually have footage, and that we released in such a quick manner. And the openness. For example, the following day, once the whole area was searched, we released the fact that we did not find a firearm. All of those things wouldn’t have even happened a year ago. Of course, all of those changes didn’t prevent the incident from happening. So I think it is progress, but it didn’t prevent this from happening. So if there’s other things we can do that would prevent these issues from happening. First and foremost, the incident itself — someone that did not have a firearm dying in our community — is a tragedy. But all the subsequent stuff that has happened in our city, the tension and the anger, that’s been long standing in our country surrounding these sort of things. If we could avoid all that, by not having the incident happen in the first place, there’s probably not a person in our city that wouldn’t take that.
What is the role of community policing in preventing this type of tragedy in the future?
Community policing — which we do in Sacramento, but obviously can do more and can get better — builds trust. I think it has some side benefits to hopefully prevent stuff like this, but more so, I think it helps with the aftermath. I even said in my swearing-in that my biggest priority was the police-community relationship. I believe most people know it’s not where it could be and it’s not where we want it to be — even before this incident happened. I think the things that happened after the 18th proved that our relationship and trust level is not where it could be. I know some people believe it can’t be that way in every neighborhood in the city. But I firmly believe that no matter what neighborhood you’re in, that they can have the same high level of trust between the police and the community. But clearly we’re not there. If we had that level of trust, people would believe that the police department — or whatever mechanisms you have in place to review this — they would believe in that and not be questioning it, and not be believing that it’s not going to be a fair process. And those are some of the things that we heard, and it’s because there is a level of distrust.
What do you hope Sacramento can contribute to the ongoing national conversation about the use of force by law enforcement, particularly against unarmed persons of color?
I think Sacramento has already shown that we don’t devolve into some of the things we’ve seen in other cities, buildings burning, a lot of violence. There were some tense times — many — and both the officers on the line, plus protestors, plus some of the community leaders, the clergy, all have a hand in that, even as intense as it got sometimes, even in some of the violence that we see in those protests, it never got to the point where it was completely out of control like we’ve seen in other cities.
Sacramento has shown its ability to do things different, but the proof is going to be in the pudding moving forward. Can we have some positive outcomes that truly make a difference, not just that make us feel better for a little bit, but that truly make a difference in that we prevent incidents from happening again? And can we also get at the underlying issues in our neighborhoods that have always plagued us — the inequities, the differences in some of our neighborhoods that are the underlying causes that cause all this division within our society? So, we’ll see. I’m hopeful we’re moving toward that. I believe the town that I’ve lived in my whole life is up to the challenge, and I think we can get there. I’m not super concerned about being an example for the rest of the country. I’m more concerned about how we get better as a Sacramento community.
Original: Jan. 18
You were the first African-American chief of police in Roseville, and now again in Sacramento. How has that informed your approach to this job?
Being black informs everything I do, at least to a certain extent, because I live in my skin every day. I think we’re all a product of our own experiences, regardless of our nationality or race or ethnicity. So I think my race gives me some experiences that others don’t have. Where I grew up gives me experiences that others don’t have. Things that happened growing up, all of those experiences form the basis of what I do every day. I have been told by people that because I am a police officer I don’t understand. Well, I’ve been black all my life and I grew up in Oak Park — what do you mean I don’t understand? I’ve just forgotten everything my mom’s taught me and that I experienced? No.
We are at a historically tough time across the U.S. for the relationship between police and the communities they serve. How do you improve police relations with this community?
I think we’ve always been in a tough time. The reality is that from the beginning we’ve had neighborhoods with a high level of trust and partnership with the police department, and other neighborhoods that don’t … My goal is to once and for all make it a permanent shift to where every neighborhood in our city has the same level of trust. What we do in the Fab Forties is going to be different than what we do in Del Paso Heights because the needs are different, but the trust level shouldn’t be different.
To think that we will never have somebody that makes a mistake in our department is foolish. But the community has to have faith that the police department is going to take it seriously and that if someone is violating that trust we’re going to address it in the appropriate manner. My responsibility is to ensure we get people in the department that have the compassion and the character needed to provide the services our communities deserve, and that if somebody slips through and comes onto the department that doesn’t have that, we handle it.
You know you mentioned that challenges of recruitment, what is your department doing to recruit more officers of color, women, I’ll leave it at that, people of color and women
That is a thing that we need to get better at …
Even before I got here [Sac PD] partnered with Sac State through the LECS Program [Law Enforcement Candidate Scholars Program], if you look at the LECS program, there are more women in that program than men — and these are all people that want to become police officers … We just hired out of the first cohort at Sac State. We hired four people that are in the academy right now in their second week, and all of them are either ethnically or gender diverse, two of them have a degree in criminal justice, one has a degree in early childhood development and one has a degree in ethnic studies. So, that’s one cog to help our department be diverse. I just recently met with the president of Sacramento City College and I’ll soon be meeting with the president of Cosumnes River College to do a similar program on those campuses, which are the most diverse campuses in our city…
One of the other things we’re doing is we need to change some things … Any traditional profession loves to talk about the good old days and how great it was in the good old days, but the good old days are why we’re where we’re at and so some things literally just need to change. So one of those things is there’s a lot of rules that go into becoming a police officer. And not only rules but practices … the way you’ve always done it. So in the last two academies that have already graduated, every single person that we kicked out of the academy for not passing something, 100 percent of the folks we kicked out of the last two academies were what you could term as diverse, either gender wise or ethnically. So in other words, no white males have been kicked out of the academy… The only two things that we kick people out of the academy for are our driving, which we call EVOC, and our range. And so those two things kick a very big portion of our diversity out of the academy…
So for this academy now that we just started, we instituted a pre-academy. We bring all of those people … into a month of pre-academy before they ever go to the academy. It’s heavy on driving and range, so by the time they get to the academy and they get to these tests and stuff, they’ve had a lot of experience. And so I think what will happen is we’ll be kicking less people out. We’ll see — the goal is to kick less people out of the academy … as we wait for the state to change some of these rules…
The other things we’re doing now with recruiting is we work out with potential recruits … which helps them because you need to be in shape to be in the academy, but it also allows them to interact. We talk to them about what they need to do as a police officer, we talk about what we expect out of a police officers and so we get to know them. Because the other struggle area that we have is: How do I predict that you, someone I have never met before is going to be a good officer or not? I think it is a very poor way of finding that answer by you and I sitting here for 30 minutes — we check your background, we do your grades, we check your neighbors and your credit history, we check all these things and we put them on a piece of paper and somebody makes a decision. Then I sit with you for 30 minutes and interview you as a deputy chief or something, and in 30 minutes I have to determine if you are going to be a good police officer for our community. And you know darn well that when I ask why you want to be a police officer, every person says the exact same thing: I want to help my community. I’m guessing a lot of people don’t really mean that…
So this workout and some of the other things that we do is our way of over periods of 6 months, maybe a year, getting to know people over a period of time. You can tell me anything you want in a 30 minute interview, but over 6 months I’m probably at some point going to see the real you — and I’ll be able to determine, do I like that real you or not…
In addition to that we’re starting basically a “walk with me” kind of program. So these officers will go through another six months-plus of field training, then they get out on their own for about another six months until they’re off probation. Somewhere in that time, we’re going to hook each and every one of them up with a community leader in a neighborhood that they’re not from or not familiar with, and they’ll spend the day shadowing that community leader. So those are all ways we’re trying to ensure that our officers get familiar with neighborhoods, build relationships and things like that with communities, before they ever work there…
I’m a firm believer that when you are in a position of leadership … you’re going to tick a lot of people off. If you’re not OK with that, you’re going to have problems.
It’s really my job to not only provide good people with the heart for this work and provide them the equipment and the training that they need to do this work, but it’s also my job to provide those opportunities where the community and the officers can interact, not in an enforcement or an arresting capacity but in some other ways … awe need to create opportunities to where our officers’ hearts can show, cause we have a lot of good. We’re just like any other organization. We have some people here that don’t, shouldn’t be police officers. That doesn’t make them bad people per say — their character and personality doesn’t lend itself to this kind of work. A good organization figures out who those people are and gets rid of them. But at the same time we have a lot of really good people whose hearts are really in this job, and it’s my job to make sure they have the opportunities to show that.
Your position requires a vast amount of visible leadership. What is your approach to leadership?
I’m a firm believer that when you are in a position of leadership you have to actually lead, which means you’re going to tick a lot of people off. If you’re not OK with that, you’re going to have problems. In order for me to stay sane, I have to do what I think is right. Take body cameras; I think they’re a tremendous resource both for the police department and the community. I’m also perfectly fine with police commissions. I think they each help in their own ways, but if that’s all we do, we will be here five years from now when the next controversial police action happens, because they’re both after the fact. The issue is getting the right people with the right training and the right equipment. Putting a camera on the chest of a bad cop doesn’t change that behavior; it only monitors it. You don’t want that guy in the first place. But that comes from changing some of the ways we do background checks on recruits, changing some of those hiring practices. But that takes leadership, right?
The other thing I firmly believe about leadership is that this is not my police department. This is this community’s police department. This is every single member of this department’s department. I tell people as I hire them that I’m no more important than they are. This is their department and they should take pride in it. As I promote people, I look for people that are willing to speak up internally and externally. If I do something wrong, you have to speak up. You’re also a leader in this department.