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Sacramento community leaders call for changes to law enforcement culture

In the wake of Tyre Nichols' death at the hands of Memphis police officers, community leaders in Sacramento are calling for change locally and nationwide.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of police in Memphis, Tenn., earlier this month has amplified calls for reform in the culture of law enforcement.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder back in 2020, for example, some people called to defund the police. Others pushed for more focus on community-based mental health crisis response teams.

ABC10 turned to community leaders to ask what change they would like to see.

"We do see a pattern and a trend of police killing people and hurting people in the city and nationwide,” said Black Lives Matter Sacramento founder Tanya Faison.

She says the video Memphis Police released Friday of officers fatally beating Tyre Nichols is especially difficult for many in the Black community to watch.

“We're experiencing it with the person that's experiencing it, because they look like us and it's always happening to people that look like us,” she said.

Berry Accius, Sacramento community leader and founder of Voice of the Youth, says he thinks the culture of law enforcement needs reform everywhere - not just in Memphis.

“We know that this moment will happen again. How will other law enforcement agencies respond throughout the country in this moment,” he said. “I think that until we recognize the systematic issues of what we're dealing with and what we're facing - in not only our communities but in law enforcement - we're going to continue to be here over and over again.”

When asked specifically what she’d like to see changed in Sacramento, Faison said, “We're fighting for the removal of gang enforcement teams and gang units... Sheriff has the Gang Suppression Unit and then Sac PD has the Gang Enforcement Team... and they literally go to neighborhoods like Oak Park, Valley High, Meadowview, and they pull over people just for driving down the street. They say, 'Oh, it's because your windows are tinted.' Or, 'It's because your name is so-and-so and we know you used to be a gang member, and so we want to search your car.'"

ABC10 took those concerns to the Sacramento Police Department and Sacramento County Sheriff's Office.

“We don't have the ability to simply pull people over for no reason, search them for no reason, without any type of liability or oversight,” said Sgt. Amar Gandhi.

He is the spokesperson for the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office since Sheriff Jim Cooper took office in December, but prior to this, he supervised the Gang Suppression Unit.

“If you are participating in gang activity, organized crime - or hanging out or associating with those that are - you will definitely be contacted by our gang unit and that is not by accident. That is not by mistake, but it's also not by any particular racial group, either. We are targeting criminals, we're targeting folks that are going out, they’re doing violent crimes,” said Gandhi, adding that he also trains deputies on racial profiling and procedural justice, “which is now a state-required class, just as racial profiling is to both our academy classes and our in-service training.”

Sacramento Police told ABC10, in part -- "The Sacramento Police Department positions gang teams in affected areas of the city in response to the ongoing violence that has plagued Sacramento for decades, as most recently witnessed in the 2022 K Street Shooting, amongst others...All officers at the Sacramento Police Department receive training in Procedural Justice, Racial Profiling, Implicit Bias, De-escalation Techniques, Crisis Intervention Techniques, the Critical Decision Making Model, and Cultural Competency," with members of the gang units receiving additional training.

“We have a lot of work to do here in Sacramento,” said Accius. “I see Sac PD trying to make a move for better. There's definitely still more work for them. Sac Sheriff, I mean, even though we have a new person at the head, there's a lot more work, it seems to be, for them. Just in our own local community, there’s a lot. And it's not only law enforcement; it's also our communities that we work in and the communities that we live in. The whole culture needs to be changed. There needs to be a shift altogether, because I don't think and I don't believe that you can just depend on a culture changing with law enforcement, if a culture is not changing within our community and within ourselves.”

Still, he says he wants to see reform within police unions, as well as federal laws in place, “so we can make sure that this never happens again: that no officer believes that taking a Black man's life due to a simple traffic violation ever happens again.”

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