Sacramento, CA – The Sacramento Police Department has created a new foot pursuit policy in the wake of the officer-involved shooting of Stephon Clark.
Clark, 22, was fatally shot by police on March 18 in his grandparents’ backyard when officers responded to 911 calls about a man breaking into cars and homes.
Recordings later revealed that one of the 911 calls came from Clark’s own grandfather.
Video showed Clark ran from police, then turned and faced them in a shooting stance. Officers fired at Clark, but investigators later determined that he had been holding a cell phone.
The officer-involved shooting is still under internal investigation, and Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn said that the new policy should not be construed as a judgement call regarding how the two officers handled the foot pursuit in Clark’s case, The Sacramento Bee reported.
“[It’s] really a policy to give direction and guidance … around what our officers are supposed to do, what they’re supposed to think about, what they’re supposed to weigh anytime they get into a situation when they’re chasing after a suspect,” Chief Hahn told The Sacramento Bee.
Under the department’s new policy, which was announced on Monday but went into effect on July 26, officers are required to consider the risks of chasing a suspect on foot, including their own safety, the potential danger to the suspect and public, and the importance of arresting the suspect, KCRA reported.
Prior to initiating a foot pursuit, officers are required to activate their bodycams, specify the reason for the chase, and provide a description of the suspect.
They must then identify themselves as police, issue commands for the suspect to stop, and are required to constantly reassess whether or not the pursuit should continue if the suspect runs into a building or an area with hazardous terrain, The Sacramento Bee reported.
The officer or a supervisor can discontinue the pursuit at any time if the circumstances become too dangerous.
“Officer and public safety should be the overriding consideration in determining whether a foot pursuit will be initiated, continued or terminated,” the policy read, according to KCRA.
Chief Hahn said that the policy was developed over a period of four months, and that four members of the community were involved in its creation.
Prior to the officers’ altercation with Clark, the chief said he never gave any thought to developing a foot pursuit policy, The Sacramento Bee reported.
“Throughout history, you know, you just chase somebody,” he explained. “You’re chasing somebody on foot. It’s not like chasing somebody in a car with thousands and thousands of pound vehicle flying down the street, so I never even really thought about it.”
Chief Hahn acknowledged that not everyone would agree that implementation of the policy is the best course of action.
“I can remember in my younger years when we created that larger policy that we have now for vehicle pursuits. There was people in the police department even that said, ‘You know, everybody’s gonna run from us now if we’re gonna cancel pursuits,’” he explained. “Well, that didn’t happen…It actually made us safer.”
“I don’t believe this policy will hamper an officer’s ability to do what we absolutely need them to do in our community, and I do think it will keep both officers and our community safer,” the chief added.
Sacramento Police Officer’s Association President Tim Davis said the union supported the policy implementation.
The policy has already come under fire from groups who complained that it was written without enough community input and that it does not contain penalties for potential violations, KCRA reported.
“This is an irrelevant policy change. It’s not going to do any good because the officers are still left to their own discretion as to decide if it is worth pursuing or not,” Clark family friend Jamilia Land said. “There is too much wiggle room for these officers. The bottom line is there needs to be accountability – and there is no accountability right now.”
Black Lives Matter Sacramento founder Tanya Faison agreed.
“As long as it doesn’t have repercussions, it’s not going to be sufficient,” Faison argued. “You can set a rule, but if you have a rule with no cost, if you break that rule, then it really doesn’t do anything. It symbolizes something good and that’s it.”
Law Enforcement Accountability Directive founder Richard Owens said he believed the policy was a step in the right direction, but asserted that in Clark’s case, the officers should have never pursued him in the first place.
“Stephon Clark only had a cellphone in his hand. He wasn’t even being pursued for a felony,” Owens told KCRA. “So, is that really worth jumping over fences, doing a 40-yard dash through everybody’s neighborhood, through their backyard? To apprehend someone for what would have been a misdemeanor?”
Clark was actually being pursued for felonies.
Although Chief Hahn did not specify whether or not he felt the policy would have changed how Clark was pursued by officers in March, Plumas County Sheriff’s Deputy and police use-of-force expert Ed Obayashi said he did not believe the policy would have affected the outcome of the officer-involved shooting, The Sacramento Bee reported.
In Clark’s case, the officers “had reasonable suspicion that Clark had committed felonies,” Deputy Obayashi explained. “In those circumstances the officers have no choice. If someone is trying to break into a home, those officers are obligated to apprehend that subject.”
“No policy I know of would have stopped or prevented it,” he asserted. “If the Stephon Clark incident happened next week and this policy was in place, it would not have prevented what happened.”