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Sacramento Police Commission To Discuss Stephon Clark — But Critics Say It Needs Authority To Investigate Case

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Protesters march for justice for Stephon Clark, killed by Sacramento police on March 18. Local activists are skeptical about whether justice will come and have asked for a police commission with more power to recommend disciplinary actions.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Four different agencies are reviewing the Stephon Clark shooting, but the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission isn't one.

Victor Brazelton expressed dismay over the current commission’s lack of authority at a recent City Council meeting. "We came into this room before Stephon Clark and we asked for you to take action,” he told city leaders, adding that he and others asked for a commission with more power: “a civilian-led oversight committee that had the ability to recommend disciplinary actions."

Demonstrators and activists in Sacramento who have protested the Clark shooting also say the outcomes of previous police shootings leave them with little hope justice will be served, and agree that the current police commission doesn't have any teeth.

But the type of commission they are looking for just might be down Interstate 80, in Oakland.

Rashidah Grinage is the coordinator of the Coalition for Police Accountability in Oakland and has led the charge for community oversight for 25 years.

She says what Sacramento has now in its police commission is essentially what Oakland had from the 1970s to the mid-’90s: one that could review policy and make recommendations, but had no authority.

That changed in 1996, she says, when an ordinance was passed to allow the commission to hire investigators to review complaints. “They got also an attorney who was not a member of the city attorney's office, an independent attorney, they got a policy analyst and they got subpoena power,” Grinage said.

But the Oakland commission still didn’t have disciplinary power.  

Grinage says a scandal in 2016 that involved officers, a sex worker and a subsequent cover-up set the stage for a successful ballot measure, Measure LL, to change the city charter. It received 83 percent of the vote.

Now, the commission reviews any case at the same time as the police department's internal affairs division. It has investigators and subpoena powers to compel testimony. If the independent investigators’ findings run counter to IA's, the case goes to a three-person commission panel. The body can also vote to change department policy, though the Oakland City Council has veto power.

But change was not immediate. It took 14 months for the Oakland Police Commission to hold its first hearing.

The current Sacramento Police Commission held its first meeting last August — 10 months after the city council changed the way members were appointed.

It has already been reviewing department use-of-force and diversity policies. Basim Elkarra is the chairman and says the public should give the commission a chance.

"Even if the voters voted for a new commission with more oversight powers and investigative powers, that takes years to implement and we don't have that time,” Elkarra said. “Right now, the commission is working hard to give our policy recommendations to council.” He added that, in the future, he is open to community leaders rethinking the commission’s role and direction.

Office of Public Safety and Accountability Director Francine Tournour says it has also taken a while to get members up to speed, including use-of-force updates from the department. “Some of those foundational things had to be done before they can start the process of making any recommendations,” she said.

For Sacramento to follow Oakland's lead, the city council or the public would have to put the reforming the commission on the ballot. Council member Allen Warren says he is open to the idea.

Warren says having an independent commission “would take a lot of pressure off the events like the current Stephon Clark situation.”

The Sacramento Police Commission is scheduled to meet Monday, April 9, at 6 p.m.

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