August 15, 2019
Chief Daniel Hahn
Sacramento Police Department
5770 Freeport Blvd., Suite 100
Sacramento, CA 95822
Sent via email
Dear Chief Hahn,
We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent press freedom advocacy group, along with the organizations and journalists listed below, write to urge the Sacramento Police Department to fulfill its commitment to respect the rights of journalists covering protests in the city.
In April, you met with a coalition of press freedom organizations, including CPJ, to discuss how your department could improve its treatment of journalists during protests. We found that discussion to be productive and promising. Unfortunately, despite several inquiries by the coalition, the department has provided no indication that it has taken any concrete steps toward implementing policies or procedures to address the coalition’s concerns.
The coalition had requested the meeting in response to the detention of three reporters by Sacramento police officers on the evening of March 4, 2019, during a large public protest. At the time, it was the highest number of journalists detained while covering a protest in the U.S. since the beginning of 2019, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
Sacramento police deployed a tactic known as kettling, whereby police encircle a group to prevent escape before advancing. CPJ has documented how kettling can interfere with journalists’ First Amendment-protected work. In this case, although the three reporters had displayed their press badges and were covering a newsworthy event, police detained them. At least two reporters, Scott Rodd and William Coburn, had their hands zip-tied for over four hours.
In the immediate aftermath of the protest, Sacramento police met with local journalists. Officers said they would review their policies and procedures, make necessary changes, and keep local press informed. CPJ also requested information from the Sacramento police to ascertain whether its media policies led to the journalists’ arrests. It soon became clear that the department did not have well-defined policies or procedures for handling media during a protest.
Our meeting in April was intended to begin a process of necessary reform. During that meeting, you made a commitment to reconsider the department’s policies, in consultation with press freedom groups. You also committed to considering First Amendment training for police officers. Soon after, the department was provided with draft policies from other departments that are press freedom compliant, and the National Press Photographers Association offered to provide First Amendment training. Despite all this, the department has yet to announce any changes or schedule such training.
This leaves journalists in Sacramento operating in an environment of uncertainty, where they fear they could be detained simply for doing their jobs. This has a chilling effect on news gathering and could deprive the public of valuable information. We hope that you will quickly, and publicly, commit to adopting policies that respect the rights of journalists at protests, and pledge to train the city’s officers in those policies.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
Committee to Protect Journalists
Freedom of the Press Foundation
First Amendment Coalition
National Press Photographers Association
The Sacramento Bee
The Sacramento Business Journal
Faculty of the Journalism Program at California State University, Sacramento
Sacramento Press Club