Beset by police misconduct, Vallejo proclaims public safety state of emergency

Vallejo, wracked with crime and beset by police misconduct, has approved a public safety state of emergency.

By a 7-0 vote on Tuesday, the City Council decided to speed reforms, which members called long overdue.

"The urgency of this proclamation and resolution is real," said Vallejo City Manager Greg Nyhoff, who made the proposal.

Nyhoff noted that Vallejo has 24 civil rights claims pending, which could expose the city to about $50 million in future liability.

Last month, the city settled with the family of Ronell Foster for almost $6 million.

Foster was shot and killed in 2018, while unarmed and on a bicycle, by an officer who was recently fired.

"We face a crisis of legitimacy and trust, lack of community trust in the police department, numerous internal investigations and resistance to reform by Vallejo Police Officers Association," Nyhoff told the council. 

The declaration allows internal changes to be imposed with less input from the police union.

"It's merely a power grab to establish a dictatorship," reacted Peter Hoffman, attorney for the VPOA.

The city of about 120,000 has just over 100 sworn officers, which Hoffman says is about 60 percent of full staffing.

He argued that reforms will only work if they are arrived at collaboratively, and that crime reduction is a matter of attracting and hiring more patrol officers.   

"What they're attempting to do is not bring in any more resources, it appears to be a power play," said Hoffmann.

About 40 people phoned into the special meeting to express opinions on police practices and whether emergency oversight is a good idea.

"At this point, I have a lot of mistrust for the police and the police union," said resident Jaclyn Nesbit, " but I also don't fully trust city council or our leadership." 

Vallejo residents are well aware the city is on track to set crime records this year.

So far there have been 116 rapes, 539 aggravated assaults, 358 shooting victims, and 22 homicides, including a couple shot to death and their infant wounded.  

"If they want to investigate these crimes, that's fine," said resident Ariel Deandrea, "but if they want to roll around on the streets carte blanche, I don't think that's what we need right now."   

Council members expressed concern that accelerating reforms will require employee time and funds that aren't currently budgeted.

"On a day to day basis, we have courageous officers who do an outstanding job in our community," said Police Chief Shawny Williams, who said the declaration will give him more freedom to appoint command staff and root out rogue and racist officers. "Our community is requiring reforms without delay and I need to the assistance of an executive team to do that." 

Currently, the department is short two captains, and William's assistant chief just resigned to help care for his terminally-ill daughter.

As residents learn about the declaration, many express hope it is implemented with community involvement.  

"We need transparency so we know what goes on in law enforcement and what goes on in city hall," said resident Juanee Cox, "because if we don't have that, how do we come together."

The emergency declaration comes up for review and renewal in 60 days and any specific orders issued by Nyhoff must be reviewed by council members within seven days. 

"This was a very brave step for all of us but it's something that needed to be done," said Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan.   

Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Debora at and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU