Sacramento's new police commission advertises oversight without authority

Advisory body to weigh in on hiring and training, but silent on police misconduct

Mayor Kevin Johnson was positively giddy. On August 18, a pair of regular city council agitators actually voiced their support for an advisory body tasked with mending the frayed trust between Sacramento city residents and local law enforcement.

Unable to process the positive feedback, Johnson asked the speakers to repeat themselves. “Seriously,” he chuckled at one point, “it’s crazy.”

And maybe a bit premature.

After all, the newly established Sacramento Community Police Commission may be better than what came before, but that’s not saying much. And, despite the mayor’s assertion that the commission “has some real teeth in it,” it likely won’t have much bite.

“I look at this as very small,” said Berry Accius, a community activist and founder of Voice of the Youth. “Some people will clap … but it’s basically the same thing as the racial-profiling commission.”

Accius is referring to the city’s virtually powerless Community Racial Profiling Commission, which was created a decade ago and ran out of steam soon after because of restrictive bylaws. While SN&R reported on the inactive body, not many paid attention until a year ago, when Ferguson, Mo., erupted into civil unrest over the police shooting of Michael Brown. In the ensuing 12 months, a seemingly endless proliferation of fatal police encounters nationwide, mostly involving unarmed men of color, has further vexed a suddenly scrutinizing public.

The new commission is supposed to salve those wounds by replacing the racial profiling one and weighing in on police hiring and training procedures. But it won’t be allowed to evaluate specific incidents, explained Francine Tournour, director of the city’s Office of Public Safety and Accountability. It “will not have the authority to look into officer-involved conduct or [disciplinary] investigations,” she told council members.

That didn’t seem to bother local Black Lives Matter chapter founder Christina Arechiga or David Andre of the Community Dinner Project, which feeds homeless individuals in violation of a city permitting ordinance. Both said they looked forward to working with the new 11-person commission, as did members of the paralyzed racial profiling commission.

Only Mac Worthy, City Hall’s knee-jerk skeptic, raised a reliable stink. “Why can’t you look into the files of the cops that are being charged?” he asked. “You got a commission, but you ain’t said nothing about subpoena power.”

In truth, granting the commission subpoena power was never on the table. The idea was a nonstarter for the police union and lacked support from Tournour, who tracks complaints against the police and fire departments as head of OPSA.

Accius likened the end result to a form of appeasement. “Give them a little piece of the pie. Don’t give them the whole pie. Don’t even give them a slice,” he told SN&R. “There always has to be a catch. We always have to keep pushing.”

Ironically, Councilwoman Angelique Ashby name-dropped Accius as one of the people whose input shaped the commission’s present incarnation. Assigned to a public safety ad hoc committee by the mayor, Ashby was responsible for the commission’s accountability piece. “Today is my favorite day,” she said.