VALLEJO – The Vallejo City Council held an impromptu discussion on Tuesday about the city’s crime rate as it considered accepting $81,000 in grant funding to renew the use of 10 automatic license plate readers in the city.
The council ultimately approved accepting $142,374 from the Department of Justice, which a staff report from Police Chief Shawny Williams said would enhance officer safety, improve officer capabilities and help with “preventing and interrupting violent crime through innovative policing.”
Vallejo will dole out the balance of the grant to the cities of Vacaville and Fairfield, which will use their funding to implement a new data integration software, Williams said.
Vallejo plans to use its portion of the funding to renew the 10 license plate readers and fund replacement of the police department’s Live Scan fingerprint machine.
“Given the state of crime and things happening in our city, we need all the help that we can get,” said District 3 councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz about the license plate readers. “Not voting for this basically defeats the purpose. We don’t have a lot of police officers on the street.”
Crime like homicide has been up in Vallejo this year. The city recently logged its 22nd homicide this year, already surpassing last year’s total with 3 months of the year still to come. Meanwhile, the department – like most city agencies – has been facing a staff shortage, with only 87 officer positions filled and 43 vacancies, according to the Vallejo Police Officers Association.
Councilmember Pippin Dew, at large, recently testified before the California State Assembly Public Safety Committee about the benefits of ALPR technology. Dew said Tuesday that Vallejo has recovered 55 stolen vehicles and the technology has assisted in solving 133 cases, including crimes such as kidnapping, homicide, elder abuse and carjackings.
“I certainly think the community needs, and deserves this,” Dew said. “We are understaffed and it is a challenge to respond to all the calls for service and this actually assists us with solving crimes.”
District 6 councilmember Cristina Arriola expressed doubts with the technology, which has raised privacy concerns regarding retention of the captured data.
“Whether or not they are going to be useful, and helpful in solving crimes, that remains to be seen,” said Arriola. She said she has seen a proliferation of the cameras in her district, which includes South Vallejo.
Some on the council questioned whether if the re-upping of the 10 license plate readers will go before the city’s surveillance advocacy board for review. Williams said they wouldn’t.
“The technology that we’re purchasing was approved in 2020, the first 10 cameras that we purchased,” he said. The council further approved the purchase of 70 additional license plate readers last year.
The surveillance advisory board, tasked with monitoring the city’s use and possible purchase of surveillance technology, was created last year amid concerns of a lack of oversight for use of surveillance technology.
Williams touted the license plate readers saying they “allow us to be more efficient and effective with our police services.”
Resident Roz Roberts addressed the council, asking what the plan is to address crime in the city.
“We’ve been talking about cameras, for I don’t know how long,” Roberts said. “When are they going to be up and when is our safety going to be a priority to the city?”
The council also approved receiving a separate $1.5 million California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant to expand the department’s approach to reducing crime in the city. The money will be used to supplement a Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program grant, which the city received for Project HOPE (Harm-focused Outreach, Prevention, and Engagement).
“Centered on youth and young adults, Project HOPE establishes comprehensive, community-based, and equitable access to justice, services, and career opportunities through place-based programming designed to prevent, interrupt, and mitigate violence,” Williams wrote in a staff report. “Evidence-based, trauma-informed violence intervention services through wraparound case management, family education and engagement, youth diversion, neighborhood revitalization and on-the-job workforce training will repair relationships and reduce victimization.”
A public speaker identifying himself as Brandon R. asked the council to approve the grant “because it's an initiative that is dealing with interruption and intervention [of crime] rather than punishment and that other stuff that hasn’t been working and never has worked.”
Some on the council took the opportunity to praise Williams, who has been facing a revolt by the police union, which blames him for the department’s low staffing numbers and took a nearly unanimous no confidence vote in the chief’s leadership.
“We don’t hear enough (on) what a good job the chief is doing,” Loera-Diaz said. “I fully support the chief. I want to go on record, as someone that has lived here for almost 40 years, and I truly see the difference of what he is bringing into Vallejo.”
Meanwhile, Verder-Aliga, who also said she supports Williams, indicated the grant and program were good for Vallejo.
“I always believe in intervention and prevention, it’s the best way to address violence and to deter crime and violence,” Verder-Aliga said.
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THE VALLEJO SUN NEWSLETTER
Investigative reporting, regular updates, events and more
- Vallejo City Council
- Vallejo Police Department
- Vallejo Police Officers Association
- Shawny Williams
- Mina Loera-Diaz
- Pippin Dew
- Cristina Arriola
- Vallejo Surveillance Advisory Board
John Glidden is a journalist reporting on the city of Vallejo. The native Vallejoan has written for the Vallejo Times-Herald, Fairfield Daily Republic, the Appeal, and Solano Tempest.
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