At 16, Daniel Hahn found himself in juvenile hall for allegedly assaulting a police officer.

He was angry and scared. He wondered how much time he might have to spend in jail for his outburst.

A few hours earlier, he and his mother had been arguing in the kitchen over his failing grade in a chemistry course. He'd kicked a table in frustration, breaking it. His mother had threatened to call the police if he didn't calm down. He called her bluff.

"The police, well, they showed up really fast," Hahn laughs.

After a tough-talking police officer accused Hahn of assaulting him, the teenager was arrested. 

Ultimately, no charges were filed, but the experience had a lasting impact on the now 49-year-old Hahn, who in August 2017 became chief of the Sacramento Police Department.

"My mom wanted me to make sure I owned up to my mistakes. I had caused the police officer to be there in the first place. There was no one else for me to be mad at but myself."

"It was," he says, "one of the most seminal moments in my life."

 

A Cop with a Business Degree

As a kid, Hahn struggled in school; though if you ask his mother, she'd tell you he was brilliant, he just wasn't trying hard enough.

Her theory was proven true when the lackluster high school student transferred from community college to California State University, Sacramento in 1993 and began earning superb grades. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing. 

By the time Hahn arrived at Sac State, he was juggling a full course load and a full-time job as a police officer in the department he now leads.

Back then, his plan was to become an entrepreneur; in his mind, being a police officer was only temporary.

Eventually, though, his mindset began to shift. It was at Sac State that Hahn discovered that his passion and his job had come together in a way he hadn't expected. He saw an ideal opening to do what he most wanted: to advance diverse communities.

"I became a police officer in 1987, but I didn't graduate until 1995. So for eight years, I was making pretty good money, yet I was still in school. I wanted that degree," says the Sacramento native.

"I really do think the process of getting that degree is what matters most," Hahn says, adding some advice for students: "Find out what you are most passionate about in life. Don't think about a job — think about a passion. You have no idea what job you could mold that passion into."

As a leader in law enforcement, he knows, too, that the power of a degree goes beyond its value to the graduate: "Higher education is the key to success and the well-being of a community."

 

'Building a Great, Trusting Relationship'

In 2011, Hahn became the first African American police chief of Roseville, a city of about 130,000 in the Sacramento metro area.  

Now, as the first African American police chief in the Sacramento Police Department's nearly 170-year history, he commands 800 police officers in the state's capital.

While the honor is not lost upon him, he's irked that too many news reports of his appointment have emphasized the color of his skin. "But what this also shows us is that change is happening and can happen," says the married father of two daughters.

Hahn expects his time as chief to be a balance of pragmatism and hope. "In certain segments of our communities — and this is throughout our country, not just Sacramento — there has never really been a collaborative, trusting relationship between law enforcement and the people who reside in these communities," he says.

"The single most important thing I hope to accomplish is building a great, trusting relationship between our communities and law enforcement."

 

Seeing the Whole Person

Bringing citizens and the police together isn't just lip service. For his swearing-in as chief, Hahn requested the ceremony be held on the Sacramento State campus.

"I wanted it to be out in the community. I wanted [people] to come together," he explains. "Sac State was a great place to do this; it is a pivotal institution."

On a bedrock of mutual trust, virtually anything is possible, Hahn believes.

"If you have that, you will not have crime in the community that you cannot solve. If you have that, the quality of life of every person in the city will be higher. And if you have that, the lives and jobs of our officers will be better."

Needless to say, Hahn is far from that terrified teenager sitting in juvenile hall. 

"Now, as chief, I look at people in the same light that my superiors looked at me 30 years ago," continues Hahn.

"I am able to look at the whole person. I don't really care so much about what you did 10 years ago as I do what you will be doing and where you will be 30 years from now."


Read more about Hahn's story and how he was "Made at Sac State."