The Vallejo City Council thinks gangs are engaged in a turf war, but their latest emergency declaration sets off a turf war between the city’s police and its police union.
Cities and neighborhoods all over the Bay Area are experiencing a rash of crime during the current coronavirus pandemic, as so many are unemployed and the world is so upside-down. But the trouble is arguably worst in the Solano County city of Vallejo, where shady evidence handling in the Sean Monterrosa police shooting, the way-too-trigger-happy Ronell Foster shooting, and some mind-blowing examples of police misconduct are producing settlement payouts that might actually bankrupt the city — and have generally undermined public trust in the police department. Just yesterday, KPIX caught wind of a workplace swastika scandal at — where else? — the Vallejo Police Department.
The general crime, and alleged crime within the department, promoted the Vallejo City Council to declare a public safety emergency at their Tuesday night meeting, according to KPIX. The station reports that Vallejo has seen a “300% increase in crime since the pandemic began,” and that “there have been 22 homicides so far this year, compared to 9 at this time, in 2019. There were 358 shooting victims, putting Vallejo on pace to have its highest shooting rate ever.”
The declaration potentially adds more police, but puts more oversight upon them. As the Associated Press explains, the move “allows the police chief and city manager to hire command staff and more quickly implement policy changes,” but also contains a “broader police reform proposal directing the city manager and police chief to beef up community policing, provide options for independent oversight and find ways to improve public trust and transparency.”
“It’s a reaction to the crime rates we have,” councilmember Robert McConnell (who just happens to be running for mayor) told the Vallejo Times Herald before the meeting. “It’s probably a true emergency situation. We have three drug lords, three drug gangs fighting for control of the drug turf in this city and citizens are getting caught in the crossfire.”
The Vallejo police union is coming out against the @CityofVallejo proposed "public safety emergency" that the city council is set to vote on tomorrow, calling it "an illegal power grab." The proclamation acknowledges that VPD has not historically held officers accountable. pic.twitter.com/XgQk5ocWqb— Brian Krans (@citizenkrans) October 5, 2020
The emergency declaration comes as Oakland has recently reported a similar jump in violent crime, and as crime has spiked in cities across the country during the pandemic, despite initially seeming like it might be on the downswing while everyone was sheltering in place.
As one expert, Thomas Abt, a senior fellow at the Council on Criminal Justice, explained to CNN in July, spikes in violence like this are often directly correlated with declining trust in law enforcement.
"As legitimacy drops, the people in these communities simply don't use the criminal justice system to mediate conflicts and instead turn to violence," Abt said at the time. "We saw a significant increase in homicides after the unrest in Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago and other places. We may be in for the same thing in the wake of the George Floyd protests."
But the move has also set off a turf war between the chief of police and the Vallejo Police Officers Association, which insists it is going to sue the city. “This is a manufactured emergency,” the police union's attorney Peter Hoffmann told KPIX. “Crime is at a high level in the City of Vallejo but the action they are taking has nothing to do with public safety,”
For a so-called state of emergency, though, this declaration will be enacted pretty slowly. The councilmembers have 72 hours from Tuesday’s meeting to submit more proposals to be included within the declaration. Then the city manager will bring the final proposal back to council in two weeks. The police officers association is vowing to sue, which could gum up the works further. In the meantime, god knows what other form of scandal will befall the Vallejo Police Department.