Police Shootings … Reactive Window Dressing or Effective Reforms?

By Craig Powell

In July, Sacramento police killed a mentally ill, knife-wielding man on the streets of North Sacramento in a hail of gunfire, striking him 14 times, in an episode recorded by police dash cams and other video. Calls to police dispatchers had reported that a mentally ill man (he had soiled himself and was seen typing on an imaginary keyboard) armed with both a gun and a knife was observed loose on the streets, which, of course, triggered the highest degree of police vigilance. The shooting was preceded by an unsuccessful effort by police officers to run the man down with their squad car.

The Sacramento police department’s response to the shooting was ham-handed, at best. It refused media requests to obtain multiple dash cam and other video of the episode, despite growing public pressure to release it. But once The Bee released a video of the incident weeks later that had been recorded by a private party, the SPD ended its stonewalling and released all of its videos of the episode within a matter of hours. What ensued was a growing chorus of calls, particularly, but not exclusively, from groups and individuals in the black community, for the city to adopt major reforms in how it handles police misconduct complaints.

City’s Rapid Response to the Problem

On Sept. 20, Mayor Kevin Johnson appointed a council committee to research ways the city could upgrade police accountability and transparency. Three days later, the committee, headed by Councilmember Larry Carr, visited Berkeley to discuss its police review commission. (Berkeley, home of my alma mater, wouldn’t have been my first choice as a place to look for sound local government policy.)

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