You have to start somewhere to change a poisonous culture of negativity. For the Sacramento Police Department, a sign of that change comes from two fresh faces, a pair of young cops who quit the department earlier this year as part of a mass exodus from the Sac PD.
But then they returned last week. They were sworn in – again. They were celebrated by the ranks and by city officials.
The homecoming of Terence Brownridge and Nick Knoblock last week symbolized more than simple personnel moves within a troubled department.
They are a continuation of positive momentum since Daniel Hahn was hired as the city’s first African American chief in August. At that point, the department Hahn inherited was struggling. It was still reeling from the controversial fatal shooting of a mentally ill man by city cops in the summer of 2016. It was still sorting out why a jaywalking stop in North Sacramento resulted in a violent confrontation where a city cop punched a suspect 18 times though the suspect might not have been jaywalking at all.
“When I talked to officers (who were thinking about leaving Sac PD), they were tired,”said Hahn, who came up through the ranks of Sac PD before leading the Roseville department for six years prior to his own homecoming.
“They were out in the community getting berated,” he said. “There was some angst between the department and management. Between the department and the City Council. Between the department and the community. There were contract issues. There were controversial cases. It was a perfect storm.”
The negative results were undeniable: In 2016, 20 officers left the department. And 28 left this year. Some disgruntled voices spoke of how city cops were among the lowest paid in the region. But Hahn dismissed that as the most important explanation for what ailed Sac PD.
“Money doesn’t hurt, but it’s not just money,” he said. “The biggest part of recruiting and retention is having a great relationship with the community.”
Truthfully, Sac PD had been in a funk for much of tenure of Sam Somers Jr., who left the department at the end of 2016. Things were no better under interim chief Brian Louie. The department was lacking a decisive voice, and relations with the City Council grew tense after city cops fatally shot Joseph Mann in North Sacramento in July of 2016.
The shooting resulted in a city policy to release video when cops use deadly force in the line of duty. When Louie balked the first time after the policy was enacted earlier this year, he was excoriated by council members. That was the nadir. The department had lost much of the good will it had accumulated over the years.
It was around summertime when both Brownridge and Knoblock decided to leave.
Both men had started out as idealistic recruits, street officers inspired by the prospect of public service and adrenaline-rush policing.
“Who doesn’t love a good car chase?” said Knoblock.
Knoblock, 33, is an East Bay native who came to Sacramento because his wife was studying nursing at Sacramento State. At that point a decade ago, he was a house painter who had to try something new.
He looked on the Sac PD website, signed up for a ride-along. He was paired up with a veteran officer on a 10-hour shift in Del Paso Heights. “Right then, I was hooked,” Knoblock said.
He attended the police academy and became a full-fledged Sacramento cop in 2009. A few years later, Knoblock was the veteran and Brownridge the rookie meeting him.
“There was nobody in my family who were police officers before,” Brownridge said.
Brownridge, 23, is a Vallejo native. “My mom was supportive, but I had to pick and choose the stories I told her,” he said. Brownridge was sworn in December of 2015.
Both loved the work. But by late spring and early summer of the year, both wanted out. They are diplomatic when discussing their reasons. Brownridge said he thought he wanted to go home. Knoblock thought he needed a change of pace. Brownridge returned to Vallejo, Knoblock to Rocklin.
“I thought I was going home but once I was gone I began to feel Sacramento was my home,” Brownridge said.
“I thought I needed a change of pace, but going to Rocklin wasn’t what I needed,” Knoblock said.
Knoblock called Sac PD. He asked about coming back. The response was positive. Brownridge heard that Knoblock was returning. He called, they talked. They agreed, they wanted to return to Sacramento.
Before the two were sworn in again last Tuesday, two other officers had returned from Placer County Sheriff’s Office, Hahn said.
Four officers coming back does not stem an exodus, but it’s a good start.
“That they decided to make this department and this community their home is a good sign,” he said.
Both young cops already have refreshing attitudes that Hahn is searching for in his department.
“I admire cops that people aren’t afraid of,” Knoblock said. “I don’t want people to be afraid of me. I don’t want kids to be scared. I don’t like it when parents tell their 6-year-old kids that I am going to arrest them. I always tell the kids: Listen to your parents, but I’m not going to arrest you.”
Knoblock plays guitar. He said he has used music as an ice breaker when talking to people on his rounds. He said he loves the looks on the faces of citizens who see him in uniform strumming a guitar.
“The best part about this job is talking to people,” Brownridge said. “We have a lot of responsibility and power but we don’t want to abuse it. Sometimes you have to be assertive but you also have to know how to talk somebody down.”
Both officers took the streets again at the end of last week. Their chief was happy, and so were they.
“I missed the department and the people I worked with,” Brownridge said. “It’s a good feeling to be back.”