(KRON) — California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced on Monday that the California Department of Justice entered a stipulated judgment with the City of Vallejo and the Vallejo Police Department (VPD) regarding reforms to police policies and practices.
The judgment expands upon reforms that began under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the DOJ and VPD three years ago. Public outrage over several high-profile police shootings spurred the MOU.
The new agreement resolves DOJ’s complaint alleging the VPD engaged in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional conduct.
Ben Nisenbaum, a civil rights attorney with Burris Nisenbaum Curry & Lacy law firm, said Vallejo’s police force “trampled” on citizens’ Constitutional rights with “near impunity” for decades.
Nisenbaum told KRON4 Monday, “Vallejo officers who have beaten and slaughtered people have been allowed to continue being Vallejo police officers. Officers who have lied in their police reports, and been proven to have done so, have gone unpunished. Now, with a consent decree between the city and the attorney general, it looks like that horrific era might be history. We certainly hope so, but it all depends on how thorough the consent decree is, and how committed the city and the attorney general are to the long road ahead in fully rebuilding this department.”
The stipulated judgment, filed in Solano County Superior Court on Monday, states that a staffing crisis caused Vallejo’s patrol shifts to become “a matter of triage, rather than full service. That paradigm has continued into the present.”
As part of the new agreement, Vallejo and its police department pledged to undertake a comprehensive set of actions to promote public safety, reduce unlawful uses of force, eliminate racial and identity disparities, strengthen accountability systems, and protect the constitutional rights of the people of Vallejo.
Bonta said, “Today’s agreement with the City of Vallejo and its police department is another important step toward correcting injustices, building trust, and enhancing public safety. The reforms laid out in the agreement are needed and necessary to continue healing the relationship between law enforcement and the community. It’s past time the people of Vallejo have a police department that listens and guarantees that their civil rights are protected.”
Bonta’s office wrote that the “DOJ concluded that VPD failed to uniformly and adequately enforce the law.”
The ACLU of Northern California wrote on X, “The community has been traumatized by the long history of serious misconduct by VPD. Vallejo Police Department has run roughshod over its citizens constitutional rights for decades. Today, CA DOJ announced a state oversight plan to reform VPD. Make no mistake. The agreement between DOJ and Vallejo is a sweeping condemnation of VPD practices and culture.”
On June 5, 2020, DOJ, the city, and VPD entered into a MOU for VPD to institute a comprehensive modernized policing plan that included implementing 45 reform recommendations. When the MOU expired on June 5, 2023, VPD had achieved compliance with less than half — 20 out of 45 — agreed upon recommendations, according to Bonta’s office.
“During the past three years of the city’s collaborative agreement with the California Department of Justice, we have fostered a positive working relationship that has produced significant results,” said Vallejo City Attorney Veronica Nebb.
The DOJ is currently seeking a judgment with court oversight requiring VPD and the city of Vallejo to implement the remaining reforms, and to implement additional reforms addressing civilian complaints, bias-free policing, stops, searches, seizures and arrest, and ongoing oversight of these reforms.”
VPD said it will implement the remaining recommendations that have not been completed from the 45 recommendations contained in the May 2020 report titled “Vallejo Police Department: Independent Assessment of Operations, Internal Review Systems and Agency Culture.”
The complete stipulated judgment can be read below:
Under the agreement, VPD will implement additional recommendations, including:
- Address unreasonable force by holding officers and supervisors accountable for not identifying, adequately investigating, or addressing force that is unreasonable or otherwise contrary to VPD policy; and refer uses of force that may violate law or VPD’s use of force policy to their Professional Standards Division (internal affairs) for further investigation or review.
- Utilize its Chief’s Advisory Board (CAB) and the Police Oversight and Accountability Commission (POAC), to continue to develop and amend significant policies that impact the community, including to its use of force policies, community-policing strategy and policies, bias-free policing policies, and civilian complaint policies.
- Develop a policy that defines and limits the use of pretextual stops.
- Enhance and revise training with respect to investigatory stops, reiterating that race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation are not to be used as a factor in establishing reasonable suspicion or probable cause, except as part of actual and credible descriptions of a specific suspect.
- Ensure stops, searches, and seizures comply with the law, as part of an effective overall crime prevention strategy that does not contribute to counterproductive tension with the community.
- Conduct an ongoing audit of incidents where an officer points a firearm at a member of the public or brandishes a firearm in the presence of a member of the public to ensure that its officers are not drawing a firearm solely based on the mere existence of a potential risk.