The City of Sacramento and its police department are in talks that could change how officers are trained to react in situations where deadly force might be used.
At the root of these conversations is the Office of Public Safety and Accountability. Francine Tournour is its Director, a position that may not be well-known to many people.
Her job is to address complaints, against the police and fire departments, sometimes made by people who do not feel comfortable going to the departments directly. She follows up on those complaints, reviews policies and alerts management when she finds they are not being followed. Sometimes, she investigates complaints against other departments as well.
With officer-involved shootings, she relies on the Sacramento Police Department's investigators and the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office.
"I do have the authority to do independent investigations, but because I am an office of one, it's easier to audit the investigation that the department does itself because they're more staffed to take care of investigations," she says. "But, what I do look for when I am doing an audit is the thoroughness of the investigation that's done and the fairness of the findings of that particular investigation."
Tournour says recent shootings of knife-wielding subjects by officers led her to begin talks with the Sacramento Police Department about policy and training changes to limit the number of such shootings in the future.
"I don't look at whether or not a shooting is justified. But, for example, we've had recently, situations where officers have had to shoot people who have mental illness," she says. On July 11, police shot a man wielding knife who they say was behaving erratically. "So, I'll have conversations with the chief and the management of the police department to figure out a way to prevent that from happening again."
Tournor says fostering better practices for officers to use in situations like these is a priority.
"The situation will not de-escalate necessarily if the person can't comprehend what's being asked of them. So, right now, we're having conversations about what other tools can police officers carry when you have someone who can't comprehend the things that you're asking them because their mental state won't allow them to do such."
Tournour's department is in the city manager's office. She evaluates and tracks the resolution of high-profile cases and complaints of serious misconduct.
She says she will push for stronger disciplinary action when warranted.
"Some people have gotten no discipline and I'm like, 'Oh no. That's definitely not, you know, I don't think that falls in line. So, they will say 'O.K. Let's figure this out,' you know, 'what are you seeing that we don't see?' And then I'll sit down with -usually the deputy chief- and go over my concerns with the case."
For the most part, Tournour says she and the department are on the same page.
"The hammer's pretty big, but fortunately, I don't always have to drop it. The department: they're pretty much in line most of the time and some of that has to do with past practice and labor gets involved regarding the discipline," she says. "In the past, I have said, I don't think this falls in line with what the person was found to have committed, what allegation or what policy violation they've committed. So, the department definitely listens and when I do weigh in, I can't say there has been a time that I requested something and didn't receive it."
She says the number of misconduct cases has been steadily decreasing in Sacramento and across the country, in part because of officer experience. Tournour says that the police department has had fewer inexperienced officers working in recent years because of hiring freezes -caused by the Great Recession
"What you tend to see is that your three-to-five-year officers are a little more seasoned and your one-to-three years, they usually get the majority of the complaints when they're first getting out in the field and learning how to navigate communicating with people."
She says the community and the police department have increased their efforts to communicate in light of recent shootings in Sacramento and across the country.
"People have to come forward and let their expectations be known and it works both ways. I think right now, you see a movement even nationally for a better communication between communities and police because the police also wants the community to understand what they're doing and how they do it and why they do it," she says. "So, that's something I'm looking forward to as this department grows and as a community has more conversations just watching that trust build and the bridge get stronger and better."
For the Sacramento Police Department, there were 70 investigations of serious misconduct in 2012. Twenty eight were found to be true or ended with a resignation.
In 2015, the number of investigations had fallen significantly. Of 21 investigations of serious misconduct, nine were verified.
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