Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn is set to retire at the end of this year, after only four years in the position. While four years seems like a quick tenure, Hahn told CapRadio’s Vicki Gonzalez on Insight that it's not really that short a term at the top.
"The average lifespan of a chief is three and a half years," Hahn said Monday. "And after 34 years of being a police officer, my family and I thought it was time to do something different."
Hahn's four years as Sacramento's first Black police chief coincided with unrest nationally and locally over police shootings of Black suspects. Just six months after he became chief, Stephon Clark was killed by officers in his grandmother's backyard after being chased by police. Officers said they thought his cell phone was a gun.
The shooting prompted weeks of large protests. The officers were not charged in the shooting.
Hahn said he's retiring for a lot of reasons, including the death threats against his family.
"We're not gonna get people to sign up for these jobs that are qualified if those are the kind of activities that their families have to suffer."
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
On how being chief of police was different in Roseville compared to Sacramento
I think in many ways it's the same. Being in charge of an agency where not only is the community depending on your agency, but the members of your agency are depending on you, is challenging. And we had some very challenging times in Roseville when I was there, too.
But I think a large city is different than smaller cities. We have a lot more challenges, or different challenges. Obviously, Sacramento is a lot more diverse, not only in race and gender, but with beliefs and experiences, than Roseville was. So they both have their unique challenges.
But I have to say, when I was in Roseville, there were some large profile incidents that happened in Sacramento, and I can remember sitting in my office in Roseville wishing I was here. And I know that seems kind of weird, like why you'd want to be somewhere in challenging times, but I've always felt this is my city, is where I grew up and lived my whole life. And if we're going to go through challenging times, I want to be part of the solution to that. And I don't believe anybody cares more about the city than I do. And so I've been extremely grateful and thankful to have been here for the last four years, while we go through those incidents and times that you spoke about earlier, I'm very thankful I came home and I'm very happy to have been here during that.
On if the demand of the job surprised him
I wouldn't say it rose to the level of surprise. I've always felt like this can happen anywhere in a small city, in a large city, because we have these underlying issues in our country, not just in Sacramento, but in our country that we don't seem to ever really address. And so all it takes is an incident and an incident can happen anywhere. And so I wouldn't say I was surprised. It was obviously challenging.
These aren't unprecedented times. Some of them are unprecedented for Sacramento, but they're not unprecedented for our country. There [are cities that] have been burning before. There's much worse protests that have happened in our country before, for hundreds of years. But we don't seem to really address it in a holistic fashion. And so we have been doomed to repeat it. So I've spent my time, at least in part, trying to address those underlying issues in our department and in our community.
On what he would have done differently
Well, I wouldn't say there's anything I can point to off the top of my head I would do differently, other than maybe some communication issues, both internally and externally. And those are probably countless that better communication could have been had, might have avoided some things. But I also think those mistakes are what got us to where we're at now and to the transparency and the ability to communicate both internally and externally. And hopefully that will serve us for years to come and we'll continue to get better at it.
But to your question, right before that of the challenging times, nothing surprised me. But it does take its toll when you have officers guarding your house 24 hours a day for way too many days and you have death threats that include your family. Last year as schools got shut down, so my wife is at work, I'm at work, but our daughters are at home by themselves, while there's active death threats and threats to protest our house. Those take your toll both mentally and physically, and you worry about the well-being of your family.
To me, that just takes it too far. We've seen protests at the city manager's house. We've seen protests at the mayor's house. And to me, I just wholeheartedly think that goes too far. We're not going to get people to sign up for these jobs that are qualified if those are the kind of activities that their families have to suffer.
On next steps to address racial inequity within the department
Yeah, I don't do efforts to increase diversity in the police department, so a picture looks more diverse. I do it because largely diversity brings different experiences that we need to serve a very diverse city in a very diverse community.
And the reality is we can't keep doing the same thing and expect different results when it comes to diversity of our staff. So we've done just that. We've changed the way we recruit, we've changed how we recruit. We just aren't getting the applicants that we used to and those applicants for police officer anyway, were never diverse in the first place.
And so we've went to council over the last couple of years and expanded the number of CSOs and student trainees and interns in our department. And those ranks are part time entry level, largely filled by college students that work around their college schedules, and those are extremely diverse, both gender and racially. And it takes time, and those folks eventually transition into the regular police academy or full time dispatchers and things like that. And so we are on a good path for increased diversity through those new positions. You just can't keep doing the same old thing and expect something different to happen.
On his advice for the next Sacramento police chief
Well, change is not bad. Change is good. And hopefully — and I'm sure there will — the next police chief will still believe in increasing trust and increasing partnerships, but they might have different ideas of how to get there. And that's good. That's fine. That's why the chiefs change. It's good to have a different voice and different ideas in major, major part of the well-being of our community.
But the one thing I would say is in this environment, and probably will always be like this, any time you're a leader of an organization our size that's so important to our community, you just have to at every step do what you believe is right. No matter what, do what you believe is right. Because there will never be probably more than 50% of the people that agree with me. And so if you bounce back and forth with trying to please this group or that group, as opposed to just whatever it is you think is right at the time, and sometimes you're going to be wrong in hindsight. But so that's what I do. I learn that from my mom at every point. I do what I think is right, no matter how painful that might be.