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West Sacramento police among first in nation to pilot police transparency initiative

The West Sacramento Police Dept. is one of just a few law enforcement agencies participating in a new transparency initiative that involves publicly sharing data.

WEST SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The West Sacramento Police Department is one of just two city police departments nationwide partnering with the non-profit Measures for Justice to pilot a new transparency and accountability initiative.

Measures for Justice described itself in a news release announcing its partnership with West Sacramento PD as “a nonprofit on a mission to make accurate criminal justice data available to spur reform.”

Working with the nonprofit Center for Open Data Enterprise, Measures for Justice created what’s called the Commons Model, which has two main parts: law enforcement agencies follow a new, national, standardized set of police performance measures and then also publish their policing data on a publicly available website.

Measures for Justice says it has been developing those standardized police performance measures over the course of three years, in partnership with community leaders and police experts. They include recommendations around use of force, recruitment and training and accountability.

That website, or public dashboard, is a tool called Commons. In addition to West Sacramento and one other city police department, the Commons Model is also being piloted in three other jurisdictions nationwide, including with the Yolo County District Attorney’s office. That dashboard, called Yolo Commons, is currently live. It was launched April 2021. 

A June news release from the Yolo County DA's office details how the tool quickly highlighted racial disparities in cases sent to the prosecutor's office and how they made changes as a result.

"The policy change means the office will no longer automatically disqualify an individual from being referred to a diversion program based on their criminal history, and is estimated to increase diversions by 15% to 20%," the Yolo County DA release said. "Diversion allows an offender to participate in a program that helps remedy the behavior leading to the original arrest and also holds the offender accountable. Upon completion of the diversion program, the offender avoids a conviction or criminal record. The policy change is the first of many to come that will be driven by data from Commons."

A YouTube video explaining the Commons Model said, “We team up to make data transparent, to set and track common goals and, ultimately, build accountability and the road to trust, which are critical to lasting reform, reducing racial and economic disparities, reducing jail and prison populations, making the system work better.”

This initiative is launching as many law enforcement agencies across the country are seeing a gap in trust between themselves and the communities they’re tasked with serving. That comes from trends like the ones shown in a recent, state-mandated report by the California Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board. The Report on 2020 Police Stop Data analyzed millions of vehicle and pedestrian stops across California. It shows that in 2020, officers were 2.4 more likely to search Black people, compared to white people who were stopped, and 2.6 more likely to use force against Black people, compared to white people.

RELATED: Study: California's policing profiling report shows racial disparities in vehicle stops

West Sacramento Police Chief Rob Strange acknowledges that trust between the community and his department needs improvement.

“We have definitely had some mistakes over the course of our history,” Chief Strange said.

He pointed to the example of former West Sacramento police officer Sergio Alvarez, who was sentenced in 2014 to 205 years in prison for kidnapping and sexually assaulting women while on duty.

RELATED: Former West Sac cop sentenced 205 years; rape victim reacts

 “It's things like that, that we have to recognize are part of our history, among other things that some in our community hold on to, and it forms their opinion of us,” Strange said.

He said rebuilding trust is a big reason why West Sacramento PD is spending more than $200,000 to launch the Commons Model.

“Our partnership with Measures for Justice is going to allow us, as a police department, to not only improve our data culture – but to do so with our community,” Strange said. “There's a lot of history to overcome, and all we can do is keep on working on what we can do, moving forward.”

West Sacramento area community leader and activist Alfred Melbourne, of the non-profit Three Sisters Gardens, said being transparent with police data is a step in the right direction but there has to be more.

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“We need opportunities; we need resources,” he said, adding that it’s important for West Sacramento PD to involve community leaders like him, who spent 18 years behind bars. “I say engage the community, but real folks, I mean, someone like myself, I have lived experience that folks couldn't even buy if they wanted to.”

Chief Strange said his department is just at the beginning of the process, and the Commons dashboard likely won’t be available for another year or two. 

In the meantime, a Measures for Justice spokesperson said, the two police departments piloting this model will form a Community Advisory Board, “which may include representatives from a number of organizations.”

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