Community Policing Insights From Chief Daniel Hahn
Charles Harvey is the League’s legislative representative for public safety issues and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Eva Spiegel is director of communications for the League and can be reached at email@example.com.
Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn took the reins of his city’s Police Department in August 2017 during a challenging time for the law enforcement profession. In his first year leading the department, Chief Hahn has implemented strategies to help create stronger relationships between the community and local law enforcement. He is the first African-American chief of police for the City of Sacramento. Western City recently spoke with Chief Hahn about the unique opportunities offered by a career in public service and how to build public trust in law enforcement.
Tell us about yourself and your path to becoming chief of the Sacramento Police Department.
Chief Hahn: When I was 19 years old, I was one of the youngest students at the Sacramento Police Academy. Because you cannot be a police officer at 19, I was a community service officer when I graduated from the academy. When I turned 21, I had not finished college yet, but the Police Department recruited me as a police officer. During those early years, I started the criminal justice academy at Grant High School, got a teaching credential and even coached women’s softball. I had no intention of staying on as a police officer. My plan was to quit when I got my degree and either start my own business or become a teacher.
When I was growing up, police officers didn’t have a great reputation. Nobody in my neighborhood talked about being one, no one knew any police officers or had a family member who was a police officer. I thought they only drove squad cars and made arrests. I didn’t know then that a police officer could do all the things I ended up doing as a police officer; I was a problem-oriented policing (POP) officer and a schoolteacher and was able to engage the community — not just drive around in a police car.
I graduated college in 1995 and realized that as a police officer, I can do the things that I really like to do. I decided to stay in law enforcement.
I had mentors in the department who encouraged me to take the supervisor’s test. I was later promoted to sergeant, then to the Sacramento Police Department’s public information officer, lieutenant, captain — and eventually I was placed in charge of undercover officers.
In 2011, Roseville recruited me to be its police chief. Upon taking the job, I became the first black officer to work for the City of Roseville. I was in Roseville for six and a half years before the Sacramento chief position became open.
What are your top priorities as chief of police?
Chief Hahn: First, I want to create a better environment and relationship between law enforcement and the community in Sacramento. For as long as I can remember, there have been many people who don’t have a trusting relationship with the Police Department; that’s not just in Sacramento, that’s everywhere in our country.
Second, I want to build up our department. This includes staffing and recruiting. The city went through tough times in the recession. We currently have about 600 officers; when I left for Roseville in 2011, we had over 800. It is not just about the number of people here, it’s also about making sure that we have the right people.
With the Stephon Clark shooting in Meadowview, people think that maybe my priorities have changed, but my priorities remain exactly the same. In fact, this is an example of why these are my priorities. If all neighborhoods and all people had a high level of trust in the Police Department and believed that the police cared about their well-being, then we wouldn’t have seen some of the things that we saw in the aftermath of the shooting. It doesn’t mean people won’t be upset, it means that the level of anger and violence and the amount of property damage that occurred after that shooting wouldn’t happen to such an extent, because people would say, “Even though I have an opinion about this, I trust the system to investigate this, so I will wait and hear what they have to say.” But people aren’t at that point.
How do you view community policing today?
Chief Hahn: Community policing is a basic thing where everybody believes that they are true partners and equals. We work together toward what is best for our community, meaning that police officers ask the community, “What would you like to see in your neighborhood? What would you like us to work on?” In general, this is how community-oriented policing works.
What are the qualities, characteristics and philosophy that can make police officers skilled in community policing?
Chief Hahn: We must evolve in terms of the qualities we look for and who we recruit to become police officers. A lot of our testing and philosophies have not changed in the past 50 years but society has. Frankly, we don’t have the number of people applying for police positions that we used to in the past. On the news, it is more frequent to see something negative about the police. That is not great advertising if you are trying to persuade young folks to become a police officer.
We have changed what we look for. People talk about the warrior mentality vs. guardian mentality for officers. Don’t get me wrong, you have to have some “warrior” in you — I just don’t want you walking around in that mode all the time. Ninety-nine percent of our job is relating to people, even when responding to a domestic disturbance where people are arguing. If you are one of those people who can come into a situation and calm everybody down with your voice, that is what we want. We are looking for people who see their job as working to improve the quality of life for everyone. That said, when there is a shooting in a school, for instance, something inside you has to say, “Run toward the danger,” while everyone else is running the opposite way.
It’s a tough job — and it’s even tougher now because the demands are higher than ever before. Part of the key is looking for the people who maybe never even thought about being an officer and recruiting them because it offers what they’re looking for. I’ll say, stop thinking about a specific job and think instead about your passion and what inspires you.
Describe some of the creative ways you have sought to connect your police officers and department with Sacramento residents.
Chief Hahn: First, let me provide a little context. If you are from Granite Bay, a predominantly upper-class, white community, you probably don’t hang out in Del Paso Heights or Oak Park or Meadowview, which are not predominantly white upper-class communities. People just don’t hang out in unfamiliar places. Suppose you grew up in Granite Bay but then are placed as a police officer in Del Paso Heights — all you know about this area is likely what you’ve see on the news; there are gangs and shootings here. Though you have experience, it is not firsthand experience and it is not positive. Then when something goes wrong, we wonder why. Well, we have put both our officers and our communities at a disadvantage by not expanding the officers’ firsthand, positive experiences of people in the neighborhoods before putting the officers in a very powerful position in those communities.
We are doing a number of things to build better relationships; for example, we take our officers on a Peace Walk in Oak Park. For the past six years, community leaders in Oak Park organize a weekly Peace Walk every Friday. It’s sort of like a weekly National Night Out where these leaders walk around, meet neighbors and try to get people engaged. So we took all 32 recent police academy graduates on that Peace Walk. The community leaders will tell you that those are always the best Peace Walks, where residents seem to be the most engaged and come out and talk more.
We also do a day of service. We tell the community that we have 32 academy graduates who are in great physical condition and want to pitch in, and we ask, “How can you put them to work?” They do cleanup or whatever the community needs.
And we have the “A Walk in My Shoes” program. We get community leaders from throughout the city, and we pair one academy graduate with one community leader in an area unfamiliar to the graduate. For instance, a community leader from Oak Park might be paired with an officer from Del Paso Heights. They spend half a day together to better understand the dynamics of that community and what they are looking for from the Police Department. The following month, the community leader goes on a ride-along with the officer. A month later, they meet again to share what they learned.
The purpose of these activities is to expand officers’ experiences — before they put on a uniform — by allowing them to have already built some relationships in the communities where they work.
There is no way an officer can know every single person in his or her neighborhood. Nevertheless, sometimes you know the people you encounter.
We often talk about body cameras and commissions. While these are good tools, they will not solve our problems, because this is a people issue and a relational issue. You don’t solve that with equipment, you solve that with relationships.
Given the current environment, how does the law enforcement profession inspire and encourage people to consider a career in public safety?
Chief Hahn: I have told my community, the black community, several times that taking anger out on black officers is not healthy. In the next breath, the community will say they want more diversity in the Police Department, and I tell them, “Well, this [singling out black officers] won’t help achieve that.” If I am a young black student at Sacramento State University, and I see this outburst going on, why would I want to do that job? Once you frame the issue that way, folks will say, “Oh, you’re right.”
A lot of this falls on the Police Department, though. We have to evolve and change the way we do certain things and relate to people. In addition, we need the community to make being a police officer a good thing.
This does not just pertain to recruiting but in general, people have to believe and know that their Police Department is willing to look at itself and make changes. In that same vein, we as a community also have to look at ourselves and be realistic about what our needs are. It has to happen on all sides.
If we include the community in collectively addressing needed changes, things will change. People need to see that we are a caring organization and that we care about all of our communities.
Building great relationships with the community is the best thing we can do for recruiting and getting good people to become officers.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for law enforcement today?
Chief Hahn: First, the overarching challenge is the relationship between law enforcement and the community. It is not critical just because of recent events but because it has always been a challenge, and we have never truly addressed it. We often do things that are simple and fast but that do not get to the heart of the problem — take body cameras, for instance. While they are useful tools and I absolutely think we should have them, they are a Band-Aid and do not get to the heart of the problem, which is people. Now we can catch people with bodycams doing bad things, but I want those people to not do bad things in the first place.
A second major challenge is dealing with technology and advances in technology. Our laws and society have not caught up with technology-related issues. Technology moves a lot faster than the protections we have against the abuse of such technology, and it helps us protect our communities, but the process of deciding how to use it is extremely important. If the process is flawed, you will face backlash from the community, which only causes more angst, reinforcing the notion that the community cannot trust law enforcement.
What is most satisfying to you about the law enforcement profession and this form of public service?
Chief Hahn: I don’t think there is any government job in the country more influential than that of a police officer. They have a lot of power and a ton of influence. To me, that influence is not neutral in any way, shape or form. It is either positive or negative. It is up to us if we make it positive or negative.
As police chief, I can make some of those big decisions that
really shape what more than 1,000 employees do for the city of
Sacramento, which can make life better for people who just need
some assistance — they just need that little bit of help or one
kind word. When you walk into a room as a police officer, whether
positive or negative, you have everybody’s attention. With that
comes a lot of responsibility and the ability to change lives
We have to look at it that way. We have to look at the drug user, the drug dealer or the woman involved in sex trafficking not just as hopeless criminals. People breaking into houses, for example, should be held accountable for their actions. In the long run, if I’m going to make my community better, I need to try to make it so that you are not going to break into houses anymore. Many people who break into houses have drug problems, so as a police officer I should feel that is part of my responsibility. I’m not a drug counselor, but if I can build partnerships with folks, I’ll think long term, “You’re going to stop breaking into houses if I can help get you off drugs.” As opposed to, “I’m just going to take you to jail every time you break into a house, because you’re going to get out of jail two days from now.” If you are still addicted to drugs, you are going to continue breaking into houses because you don’t have a lot of choices and you need your fix.
Our responsibility is thinking long term about what is best for our community. Ultimately, we must always ask ourselves, “What is the purpose of what I’m doing, and how does it impact my community?”
New Policy Focuses on Safety During Foot Pursuits
The Sacramento Police Department announced a new policy on Aug. 13, 2018, related to foot pursuits in dangerous circumstances. The policy directs officers before and during a pursuit to weigh their own safety, the safety of the public and the importance of apprehending the person.
Officers are directed to continually take their surroundings and the availability of backup into account when chasing a suspect. If officers start a chase, they must activate their bodycams, tell their supervisor the reason for the foot pursuit and give a description of the suspect. If pursuit becomes too dangerous or if too many unknown factors are in play, a supervisor can order the officer to stop the chase — or officers can decide to stop with no repercussions for doing so.
Photo Credit: Yvonne Hunter (Badges); other images courtesy of the Sacramento Police Department and Chief Daniel Hahn.