VALLEJO – The Vallejo City Council is expected to vote to establish a police oversight commission on Thursday after the council requested edits to the proposed ordinance, including expanding the circumstances that would trigger an outside investigation.
The council could have potentially held first of two required votes to establish police oversight at its Monday meeting, but that action was delayed by a few days following edits from the council that would require an outside investigation into all in-custody deaths involving the Vallejo Police Department.
The council is set to approve the ordinance during a continuation of the meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday.
The ordinance is based on a draft presented by members of Common Ground, a non-partisan group of religious and non-profit organizations, which suggested a system of police oversight based on the one used in Oakland.
Common Ground proposed a three-prong approach, with an independent investigator, Community Police Oversight Accountability Commission, and independent police auditor. However, Vallejo’s model would rely on contractors to conduct outside investigations.
Renee Sykes, a member of Common Ground, said that the “draft is not perfect but it’s a starting point.” She said it is a “conversation piece,” which allows dialogue amongst the various groups, and she said police oversight “is something we didn’t have 20 or even 10 years ago.”
The proposed ordinance would require the city to hire an outside investigator to review serious police incidents, including when an officer discharges their firearm at a person, when an officer’s use of force results in death or great bodily injury, and allegations of sexual assault or dishonesty. The investigations would be conducted in parallel with an investigation by the department’s internal affairs.
On Monday, the council expanded those powers so the outside investigator would review all in-custody deaths and whenever a civilian died following officer use of force.
Another component would establish a nine-member Community Police Review Commission tasked with reviewing the reports of the outside investigator, advising the chief of police on discipline and reviewing reports of bias or racism by officers. The commission would also receive 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.
Meeting attendees again raised questions about the effectiveness of the proposed model and whether the commission would have enough power to hold a department accountable that has killed 19 people since 2010.
“For all of the hype, the proposed ordinance will not result in any meaningful reform,” said Vallejo resident Robert Schussel. “All it does is solidify the current process by providing advisory roles to the commission, investigator and auditor. They can write all the recommendations and reports they want, but the city manager and chief of police is able to ignore them.”
The discussion veered into whether the city could grant the commission power to discipline officers. Chief Assistant City Attorney Randy Risner said that the city charter prohibits the council or its members from interfering with the city manager’s power to hire and fire. To do so is a misdemeanor.
“You can’t create a commission that has authority that you don’t,” Risner said.
One big difference between the proposed oversight model in Vallejo and the police commission in Oakland would be that Oakland’s commission can fire the police chief, but Vallejo’s would not have that power.
Councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz, District 3 - Glen Cove, said she would support amending the city’s charter, saying, “oversight controlled by city staff is not an independent oversight.”
“We need a police commission that has control over the selection and supervision and removal of the independent auditor and independent investigator,” Loera-Diaz said.
Changing the city charter requires residents to vote on the proposal.
Loera-Diaz said she would publicly advocate for a charter amendment when a new council is seated next year.
“I’ll walk districts, I’ll do whatever I need to do to get that done because I live here,” she said. “Even though I'm light-skinned, I’m a woman of color, I’m a Mexican-born native of Vallejo with brown kids and brown grandkids so this is important to me.”
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.
Loera-Diaz said she’d like to see the OIR Group provide police department auditor services in the new year to evaluate the police department’s professional standards division. She noted that the OIR Group had been hired two years ago to serve as interim auditor, but that work hadn’t happened.
Risner said that there was a conflict of interest as OIR Group assisted the city on litigation surrounding an officer-involved shooting. Risner didn’t reveal which shooting the firm assisted on. The OIR Group conducted the outside investigation into the 2020 Vallejo police killing of Sean Monterrosa and the city is attempting to fire Detective Jarrett Tonn based on the firm’s findings.
Council members also dropped a requirement that persons couldn’t serve on the commission for seven years after a felony conviction.
The council did uphold that persons required to register as a sex offender or convicted of any crime involving the abuse of a child are ineligible to serve on the commission. They also approved a restriction that persons convicted of a felony involving physical harm to a law enforcement officer are unable to serve on the police commission.
Outgoing councilmember Hakeem Brown thanked his colleagues for removing the felony restriction.
“I’m so thankful to this council that we are going to allow felons who served their time to be part of this commission,” said Brown, who was convicted of felony domestic violence twice in 2001 and 2002.
Councilmembers also agreed to reduce the amount of time, from seven years to five years, a person who has sued the city must wait before they are eligible to be appointed to the police commission. But the council declined to make an exception for those who filed a lawsuit against the city of Vallejo which doesn’t involve the police force, like a slip and fall on city property.
Membership restrictions include that commission members cannot be any current city employees, or any attorney suing the city, or any current or former law enforcement.
If the ordinance is approved Thursday, the council will be required to vote on it for a second and final time on Dec. 20. Risner said that the ordinance won’t go into effect until 30 days after the second vote. During that time, the city will hold meet and confer meetings with the Vallejo Police Officers’ Association to ensure the union supports the oversight model.
Several councilmembers said they were pleased with the draft ordinance and what they hoped to see with police oversight.
“For me, the overarching goal of this oversight and accountability board is holding our officers accountable for their actions, making sure appropriate discipline is enacted, and policy changes are created,” said Councilmember Pippin Dew.
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THE VALLEJO SUN NEWSLETTER
Investigative reporting, regular updates, events and more
- Vallejo City Council
- Vallejo Police Department
- police oversight
- Common Ground
- Renee Sykes
- Robert Schussel
- Randy Risner
- Mina Loera-Diaz
- OIR Group
- Jarrett Tonn
- Hakeem Brown
- Pippin Dew
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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