VALLEJO — The Vallejo City Council has approved the application for people who want to serve on the city’s future Police Oversight and Accountability Commission this week as the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is calling for immediate reform measures and a five-year extension of oversight from the California Department of Justice.
The Vallejo Police Department is scheduled to update the city council next week on their work to implement the recommendations from the DOJ. But because city staff rejected the city council’s interim police auditor over two years ago, there has been no regular reporting or independent oversight of VPD’s progress and the department is unlikely to meet the DOJ’s June 5 deadline.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta on Wednesday said the reform effort between his office and Vallejo police has been a “cooperative” and “collaborative” one.
“The police chief we worked with on that is not there anymore, and so we’re going to have to determine what happens next,” Bonta said at a press conference announcing his office was investigating the patterns and practices of the Antioch Police Department. “Our interest and focus on Vallejo — its practices and policies — has not changed. What may change is how we are involved in shaping and reforming those policies.”
Meanwhile, the Solano County Chapter of the ACLU is demanding that Vallejo immediately establish independent oversight of the Vallejo Police Department.
The organization stated that after 19 police killings since 2010, cover-ups of the department’s badge bending ritual and the destruction of evidence by police and the city attorney’s office, there is clear indication that the city “is incapable of reforming the Vallejo Police Department or the Vallejo Police Officers Association on its own.”
The statement was circulated as a Change.org petition in cooperation with local community members.
“We worked really hard as a community and with legal experts to come up with recommendations that are actionable within the purview of the city council,” Andrea Sorce said at Tuesday’s city council meeting. “And I want to emphasize that you [council members] are the only people who can get us out of this mess.”
The ACLU petition calls for the city to release records related to its investigation of the tradition of some Vallejo police officers bending the tips of their star-shaped badges to commemorate their participation in an on-duty shooting and explain how officers were disciplined for the practice. It recommended changes to the police oversight ordinance and changes to the city charter to ensure the independence of the commission and the police auditor.
Finally, the group demands that the city hire an external consultant to monitor and oversee implementation of the OIR Group’s recommendations and conduct independent investigations into a laundry list of legal and community concerns regarding VPD.
Council approves police commission applications
At Tuesday’s meeting, city council unanimously approved the application for the recruitment process for prospective members of the police commission with some amendments. The previous council passed the oversight model, similar to that in Oakland, in December.
Councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz asked that questions on the application regarding positive and negative experiences with police be removed to avoid creating bias in the selection process. Councilmember Charles Palmares asked that a statement be included to indicate that criminal charges other than those specifically outlined in the application do not automatically disqualify applicants.
The city began work to establish the oversight commission nearly three years ago after hiring the police accountability consultant the OIR Group to produce an assessment of the Vallejo Police Department.
The OIR report, completed in May of 2020, was harshly critical of the department and its culture, and included 45 recommendations to reform the city’s police department. The 45th recommendation was for the city to work with VPD to create a suitable form of independent oversight for the police department.
When City Attorney Veronica Nebb introduced the application Tuesday night, she suggested that the council may want to give direction on how long to leave the application open. McConnell said that there is a lot of interest in the commission and he believes that applications will fill up rapidly.
“My concern is that we go into this interview process understanding how this oversight committee is going to interact with the OIR report,” he said.
Nebb said that the main role of the police commission will be to review new police department policies. She noted that Interim Police Chief Jason Ta is scheduled to give an update on the department’s progress in meeting OIR’s 45 recommendations on May 16th.
But it will still take six to nine months before the city has a functioning oversight commission, Nebb said. Once the recruitment process is complete and the council has selected the commissioners and alternates, there will be an extensive training process before the commissioners can actually review policy.
The city has yet to give a date when the application process for potential commission members will begin.
Oversight contract never executed for ‘conflict of interest’
The city had commissioned the OIR report in 2019 to chart a path to address VPD’s high number of deaths from officer-involved shootings.
In 2020, alarmed by police killings of civilians in Vallejo, the California Department of Justice stepped in to conduct its own review of VPD policies. The DOJ intervened three days after Vallejo police Det. Jarrett Tonn killed Sean Monterrosa on June 2, 2020. Bonta’s office would eventually take over the criminal investigation into that police killing.
The city of Vallejo, VPD and the DOJ formed a cooperative agreement which called for the city to work with VPD to institute the 45 recommendations of the OIR report along with additional recommendations from the DOJ. The agreement set up a three-year timeline that required the department to implement the recommendations by June 5, 2023.
In February of 2021, the city council approved a contract with the OIR Group to serve as the interim police auditor to provide independent oversight of the police department while the city worked with the community and the Vallejo Police Officers Association to create an acceptable police oversight model. At that time, McConnell requested that the interim auditor report to the city council every 60 days.
But the OIR Group never started that work. The contract the council approved — provided to the Vallejo Sun in response to a public records request — was signed by city staff, but not by anyone from OIR.
Michael Gennaco, a principal for OIR Group, said in an email that his firm did not decline to work with the city. “In early 2021, we were advised of the City's interest in us working as the Interim Police Auditor and got to a scope of work and contract but we have not performed any work in that role,” he wrote.
Then nearly two years later, in December 2022, Loera-Diaz asked city staff to implement the approved contract as the council had directed in February 2021, so the OIR Group could begin their work as the interim police auditor.
"The reason that hasn't been implemented is because there is a conflict of interest with the OIR Group,” assistant city attorney Randy Risner said at the meeting in response to Loera-Diaz. “They're an expert in one of our litigation cases, and we can't have someone who's supposed to be an independent police auditor also be an expert in one of our cases."
The council directed staff to put an item on the calendar for January to discuss the OIR Group and possible alternative consultants who could serve as interim independent police auditor, but the discussion never appeared on the council agenda.
In December, Risner reported that the VPD had implemented two of the 45 recommendations. And during a meeting in March, Ta said that he would like the DOJ to grant an extension in light of the progress that the department had been making on the recommendations.
The ACLU petition calls for the city to implement the OIR original contract or another “external specialist who will submit an action plan with deadlines and transparency regarding their work progress, and who can provide public updates every 30 days.”
Bonta also said Wednesday that he invites continued collaboration with the Vallejo Police Department, but his office’s interest in how they police Vallejo doesn’t end with their cooperation.
“If there’s an opportunity for ongoing collaborative reform work, we invite that,” he said. “If there’s an opportunity for another type of approach, including a patterns and practice investigation, that’s on the table as well.”
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THE VALLEJO SUN NEWSLETTER
Investigative reporting, regular updates, events and more
- Vallejo Police Department
- Jason Ta
- Rob Bonta
- police oversight
- California DOJ
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Andrea Sorce
- OIR Group
- Mina Loera-Diaz
- Charles Palmares
- Veronica Nebb
- Jarrett Tonn
- Sean Monterrosa
- Michael Gennaco
- Randy Risner
Ryan Geller writes about transitions in food, health, housing, environment, and agriculture. He covers City Hall for the Vallejo Sun.
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