VALLEJO – The Vallejo City Council is scheduled to get an update on efforts to reform the beleaguered Vallejo Police Department during a special meeting on Tuesday.
Police Chief Shawny Williams will provide a progress report on the department’s status implementing 45 recommendations from the OIR Group, a firm hired in 2019 to make recommendations to improve the department.
Former Lt. Michael Kent Tribble, who retired from the department last year, testified during a criminal case in Solano County Superior Court in March that he came up with the idea for officers to bend their badges while working for the Concord Police Department in 2000. Tribble testified that he bent the badges of at least six Vallejo police officers who were involved in shootings after transferring to Vallejo in 2003.
It is unclear whether the council will get an update on the investigation into the macabre practice. The city hired retired Sonoma County sheriff Robert Giordano to conduct an investigation, which was completed last September. However, the city attorney’s office continues to argue that the 150-page report is a personnel issue and can not be released publicly or even to the council.
Williams wrote in a staff report for Tuesday’s meeting that the council will “gain a unique understanding of how we are changing as a department.”
“You will hear about our 21st Century Policing models, trauma-informed care services, enhanced communications efforts, and the strategic partnerships we have established to create real change,” Williams wrote. “You will also learn more about our enhanced training and tactics with a unique focus on decision based thinking, crisis intervention techniques, implicit bias, and cultural awareness.”
In the same report, Williams touted several “highlights” of reform since the OIR Group presented its recommendations in 2020. Williams pointed to the department crafting a new de-escalation policy and requiring officers to activate their body-worn cameras when interacting with the public.
He also noted that the department partnered with the California Department of Justice to work together on a comprehensive policing plan and hired a public information officer “to increase social media presence and enhance communication to the community.”
Community members have continually called for an update regarding the progress made in reforming the department and have demanded to be able to review the badge bending investigation.
Councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz, District 3, also requested during the council’s May 10 meeting that the council receive an update on what happened during the city’s Project RoomKey program that led to five people dying during the nearly two-year program.
Intended to help vulnerable people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic, the city’s program was fraught with multiple issues as participants faced hazardous conditions like mold and human feces inside hotels the city used.
Malone said during the May 10 meeting that the council might be able to meet during a special meeting in July to receive an update about the program.
But McConnell warned that there might be legal issues preventing the council from getting a full report during a public meeting.
“I would caution you to keep an open mind because we may be restricted by legal considerations from providing all the information you would like to see out there,” McConnell told Loera-Diaz.
City eyes banning possession of catalytic converters
In an effort to slow the number and frequency of catalytic converter thefts, the city council is being asked to approve an ordinance on Tuesday making it illegal to possess a catalytic converter that is not attached to a vehicle unless a person has valid proof of lawful possession.
City officials said that there were 487 catalytic converter thefts reported to the police department last year – a 426% increase from 2019.
“This ordinance will provide the Vallejo Police Department with clearly established legal authority to protect the public and deter this criminal activity,” a staff report provided to the council stated. “Over time, the impact of this ordinance should reduce the number of catalytic converter thefts within the City of Vallejo.”
Catalytic converter thefts aren't unique in Vallejo as there has been a rise in such thefts across the country. Thieves take the converters to scrap metal dealers who extract platinum, palladium, and rhodium from the devices.
Vallejo’s proposed ordinance is similar to a statewide bill introduced in the legislature earlier this year and another ordinance that was passed in Carlsbad in February.
Officials said that catalytic converter thefts are “challenging for law enforcement agencies to investigate due to the lack of serial numbers or other identifying markers on or within each unit.” They said that under current state law, a police officer must locate the rightful owner before arresting someone in possession of a catalytic converter.
Officials also said that there is no state or federal law requiring individuals to provide proof of how they obtained catalytic converters, “thus limiting law enforcement’s ability to protect the public by preventing catalytic converter thefts and preventing law enforcement from seizing suspected stolen catalytic converters when no victim is present.”
More than 90% of catalytic converter theft cases in the city go unsolved, officials added. Under the new ordinance, persons found with a catalytic converter can be charged with a misdemeanor.
If approved, the council will need to vote on the ordinance for a second and final time during a subsequent meeting.
There are two other items before the council on Tuesday. They include: