VALLEJO – After years of trying, the city of Vallejo has established a mechanism to oversee its police force, which has killed 19 people since 2010.
During an early afternoon meeting Thursday, the Vallejo City Council voted 6-1 to approve an ordinance creating a three-prong oversight approach, including outside investigations of serious police incidents, a Community Police Oversight Accountability Commission, and a police auditor. The ordinance will come back for a final vote next week.
The vote came after two community workshops when the council was criticized for trying to pass an oversight ordinance in a single month just before three new council members are seated next month.
"I think it will do more harm than good to not pass this ordinance,” Councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz said. “We need to have something in place.”
Loera-Diaz said she was “committed to working with the new council on any updates and changes that are needed.”
Diosdado “JR” Matulac, Charles Palmares, and Peter Bregenzer will join the council next month after being elected in November.
“This is not carved in stone. This is a living document and it will be treated as such,” Loera-Diaz said.
Under the ordinance, a third-party investigator will be tasked with reviewing serious police incidents, including when an officer shoots at a person, when an officer’s use of force results in death or great bodily injury, any other in-custody deaths, and allegations of sexual assault or dishonesty. The investigations would be conducted in parallel with the department’s internal affairs investigation.
A nine-member police commission will review the reports of the outside investigator, while also advising the chief of police on discipline and reviewing reports of bias or racism by officers. The commission would also review any citizen complaints.
Finally, an office of Independent Police Auditor would be created to review the final investigatory reports, whether by the outside investigators or internal affairs, and make recommendations to the city’s police chief or the police commission.
Outgoing Councilmember Hakeem Brown held back tears as he named Black men and women killed “in cold blood,” including Emmett Till, Oscar Grant, George Floyd, Fred Hampton, Breonna Taylor, and two Vallejo men: Floyd “Neamiah” Strong, and “Catdaddy,” the nickname for Ronell Foster, who Vallejo police beat, Tased, shot and killed in 2018.
“It means something to have a Black man on this council right now making this decision” Brown said.
Brown also expressed gratitude that the city council removed a restriction prohibiting persons from serving on the commission for seven years after a felony conviction.
“As a former felon, I was released 16 years ago to the day,” said Brown, who was convicted of felony domestic violence in 2001 and 2002. “To see a former felon up here actually pushing and working on legislation being able to show as an example that no matter what your background you can get up here and serve.”
The council approved one other change Thursday to the ordinance Brown proposed. Under the original terms, each council member would select a police commissioner from applicants living in their respective district. The new language allows a councilmember to pick their commissioner from any other district, if a council member believes no qualified candidates applied from their district. The mayor could still pick from any of the applicants.
Police reform has been before the council for several years with the establishment of a police commission being a recommendation from the OIR Group, which released an assessment of the police department in May 2020.
The OIR Group presented 45 different recommendations. Chief Assistant City Attorney Randy Risner confirmed that since they were released to the city, only two recommendations have been completed.
“There are several that are being worked on, there is a process that goes on, some of that process is not public and can’t be public because of our collaborative agreement with the Department of Justice,” Risner said.
Risner also responded to calls that the police ordinance, modeled after the one used in the city of Oakland, doesn’t have enough teeth, as Oakland’s can fire the police chief. Some residents hoped that the commission could impose discipline on police officers, but Risner said that was not legally possible.
“There is binding authority, it just rests with the chief of police,” Risner said. “Disciplining a peace officer is not an easy task, it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of effort, it involves lawyers almost always.”
Risner also outlined the discipline process for a police officer, including the ability for a terminated officer to seek third-party arbitration.
“Sometimes you get officers back that have been terminated,” he added.
Vallejo has seen that first hand as an arbitrator overturned the terminations of lieutenants Michael Nichelini and Herman Robinson after they were fired by former police Chief Shawny Williams. A review hearing also found that termination was excessive for Detective Jarrett Tonn, who shot and killed Sean Monterrosa outside a Vallejo Walgreens during the early morning hours of June 2, 2020, but Williams proceeded with his termination anyway. Tonn is also expected to appeal his firing to arbitration.
Risner said the next steps include meeting and conferring with the Vallejo Police Officers’ Association about the ordinance. He admitted that he doesn’t “know how long that will take.”
The ordinance is based on a draft presented by members of Common Ground, a non-partisan group of religious and non-profit organizations.
Glenda Goode, a member of Common Ground, said the group “is extremely grateful for the progress we’ve made in this regard. It is encouraging to be at this point.”
Goode said passing the ordinance would let the group have data and refine it as necessary “because nothing is perfect.”
“It’s not perfect, but let’s not make the perfect the enemy of what is really good,” she added.
Avi Frey, deputy director of the Criminal Justice Program at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, who is part of the ACLU team suing the city for records related to the police badge bending scandal, also spoke on the need to hold Vallejo police accountable.
“The Vallejo Police Department has terrorized this community, particularly people of color, for a long time,” Frey said. “Community trust in law enforcement is badly frayed but with continued effort and your sustained commitment we can begin to make repairs.”
Councilmember Pippin Dew stressed the need for everyone to work together and bring the police department to the table when it comes to reform.
“I think we must include and collaborate with our officers, we cannot reasonably expect to achieve true reform of the conduct and behavior of a group of individuals without bringing them to the table,” Dew said. “Including them in the conversations, and securing their buy-in to the desired outcome.”
The lone ‘no’ vote came from Councilmember Cristina Arriola, who spoke about her objections with the ordinance.
“It has been a long time coming, we did rush it through at the very end of the year, I’m not happy with that,” Arriola said.
This holiday season, give the gift of independent local journalism
Providing good, local journalism is hard, time-consuming work, and the Vallejo Sun relies on its community of readers to chip in to that.
Since we launched in September 2021, we've published nearly 400 stories, seven podcast episodes, and broken major stories about police, housing, city government and more in Vallejo, Benicia and the rest of the county.
Our readers make that possible.
There’s a great way you can add to your support of the Vallejo Sun, help spread the word about our journalism, and help keep your community informed about the election: Give your friends, family and neighbors a gift subscription to the Vallejo Sun.
If you send one we'll mail a special gift to show our appreciation.
Click here to send a gift subscription.
Click here to become a sustaining member of our newsroom.
Before you go...
It’s expensive to produce the kind of high-quality journalism we do at the Vallejo Sun. And we rely on reader support so we can keep publishing.
If you enjoy our regular beat reporting, in-depth investigations, and deep-dive podcast episodes, chip in so we can keep doing this work and bringing you the journalism you rely on.
Click here to become a sustaining member of our newsroom.
THE VALLEJO SUN NEWSLETTER
Investigative reporting, regular updates, events and more
- Vallejo City Council
- Vallejo City Hall
- Vallejo Police Department
- Vallejo Police Officers Association
- Common Ground
- Mina Loera-Diaz
- Diosdado “J.R.” Matulac
- Charles Palmares
- Peter Bregenzer
- Hakeem Brown
- OIR Group
- Randy Risner
- Michael Nichelini
- Herman Robinson
- Shawny Williams
- Jarrett Tonn
- Sean Monterrosa
- Glenda Goode
- Avi Frey
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Pippin Dew
- Cristina Arriola
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.
follow me :