Faced with increasing crime, scandal within the Vallejo Police Department, and more than two dozen use-of-force lawsuits, the Vallejo City Council will be asked to declare a local public safety emergency during a special meeting Tuesday.
The unusual move will give Vallejo police Chief Shawny Williams the power to hire “needed management personnel without regard to the normal civil service process” and “allow the implementation of reform policies without the advance requirement to meet and confer which can delay implementation by many months,” according to a city staff report from interim City Attorney Randy Risner.
The council will also be asked to approve Williams’ reform plan, which includes modifying the department’s recruitment process “to improve diversity and caliber of candidate pool,” authorize Williams to hire command staff, and support Williams’ redeployment plan “in order to increase community patrol resources.”
2020 has been a bloody year for the city, as there have been over 350 shootings with nearly two dozen homicides, the city said. The city is on pace to match its worst homicide total in 25 years.
In addition, Vallejo continues to spend money to defend itself in 23 federal civil rights lawsuits involving the city’s police force. The lawsuits have been filed over the previous few years.
In early September, the city agreed to a $5.7 million settlement with the family of Ronell Foster, the 33-year-old man shot and killed by a Vallejo police officer in February 2018. The city is required to pay $500,000 of that amount with the balance paid for by the city’s insurance pool.
Risner warned that it may cost the city $50 million to settle the remaining lawsuits. After the city’s insurance pays its portion, Vallejo could still be on the hook to pay $15 to $20 million of that total, he added.
A monetary amount the city may not be able to pay as COVID continues to cause havoc to the city’s finances. According to the city, COVID “has diminished $3 Million of its $17 Million reserve funds.”
“The City currently faces a dramatic increase in violent crime and homicide,” the staff report reads. “At the same, public trust in the Vallejo Police Department’s (VPD) in parts of the community is at an all-time low as the result of numerous officer-involved-shootings, investigation of internal scandals such as badge bending, a perception that officers are not held accountable, and an unprecedented increase in the number of use-of-force lawsuits.”
The independent newsroom Open Vallejo first reported in July that Vallejo police officers would have the tips of their star-shaped badges bent following their involvement in a fatal shooting.
“Combined, these factors have created an emergency situation that the City must deal with expeditiously or face severe consequences,” Risner explained. “That is, without sufficient public trust in the VPD, violent crime will likely continue to spiral out of control. Additionally, without a change in VPD culture, including its policies and procedures, use-of-force lawsuits will continue to increase causing incredible stress on already strained City resources.”
In the proclamation declaring the emergency, the city scolds the police department for “not holding officers accountable for inappropriate behavior and performance (which) creates an outsized impact on the image of the department and the majority that are providing great services to Vallejo residents.”
“VPD’s ability to manage and impact crime rates is related to the public’s willingness to assist the City in that effort; thus the crisis of legitimacy and trust makes it more
difficult to control the crime which has created a public safety emergency endangering the lives and property of Vallejo residents and visitors,” the proclamation reads.
The Vallejo City Council will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday via teleconference.
Members of the public may provide public comments during the meeting via Zoom:
Option to join by phone: Dial (669) 9006833; Enter meeting ID: 914 0075 0676#
Press *9 to digitally raise your hand from the phone.
For additional instructions on how to speak during public comment, please visit, http://www.cityofvallejo.net/publiccomment
There are three different ways the public can view the meeting: Watch Vallejo local channel 28; stream from the city website: http://www.cityofvallejo.net/Streaming; join the Zoom webinar: https://ZoomRegular.Cityofvallejo.net.
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John Glidden worked as a journalist covering the city of Vallejo for more than 10 years. He left journalism in 2023 and currently works in the office of Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown.
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