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Calif. PD agrees to sweeping reform policies in settlement with state DOJ

New reforms include developing a policy to limit “pretextual stops” and revising training for investigatory stops


Vallejo Police Department

By Thomas Gase
Times-Herald, Vallejo, Calif.

VALLEJO, Calif. — The California Department of Justice has secured a settlement agreement with the City of Vallejo and its police department requiring reforms to its policies and practices, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced on Thursday.

“It’s past time the people of Vallejo have a police department that listens and guarantees that their civil rights are protected,” said Bonta in a news release.

The announcement immediately led to mixed emotions in a city long since weary of news surrounding its embattled police department.

Lawyer and longtime Vallejo advocate Melissa Nold hoped for more of an investigation and not a settlement and called the news “beyond shameful,” saying it made her “embarrassed to be a lawyer as well as embarrassed by the silence of all these would-be good people.”

The settlement agreement is the result of the reform work started under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between DOJ and VPD and contains nearly identical terms to the stipulated judgment that the justice department and police submitted to the court on Oct. 15, 2023, that had remained unsigned by the court and therefore unenforceable until approved by the court.

The agreement announced Thursday addresses DOJ allegations that Vallejo police engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct and ensures that the reform process agreed to by the parties in the stipulated judgment will begin immediately, overseen and enforced by the DOJ.

As part of the settlement agreement, Jensen Hughes will now lead an undertaking of a comprehensive set of actions that will be overseen directly by the DOJ — to promote public safety, reduce unlawful uses of force, eliminate racial and identity disparities, strengthen accountability systems, continue to increase support for officers, and protect the statutory and constitutional rights of the people of Vallejo.

This settlement agreement replaces the October 2023 stipulated judgment, and will remain in place until the terms are met. The DOJ retains the right to oversee and enforce the settlement, including by taking legal action to ensure compliance where necessary.

“Repairing trust between our law enforcement and the communities they serve is a foundational part of public safety and rebuilding that trust takes swift, decisive action,” said Bonta said in the same news release. “The settlement agreement with the City of Vallejo and its police department demonstrates commitment to correcting injustices, building trust, and enhancing public safety for the people of Vallejo , by allowing the reforms decided upon in our October 2023 stipulated judgment to move forward immediately, irrespective of court approval. We cannot afford to be complacent.”

State Sen. Bill Dodd , D- Napa , focused on accountability moving forward.

“Building trust and professional standards is essential, and we need accountability to move forward, so I’m hopeful this is a step in that direction,” said Dodd.

Nold, meanwhile, called the agreement a “failure.”

“And let me make this clear, the attorney general’s office and state DOJ failed to investigate any of the numerous criminal violations where witnesses within the department were prepared to testify,” Nold said. “They destroyed evidence under his (Bonta) nose and he would not investigate. He knew all of the dirt but conspired with the City of Vallejo to not investigate anything at all. Nothing. He left known dangerous officers in the department who are not legally permitted to be police officers. This is a criminal act on Rob Bonta’s end, a complete dereliction of duties.”

On June 5, 2020 — only three days after Sean Monterrosa was shot and killed by VPD officer Jarrett Tonn — the DOJ, City of Vallejo, and VPD entered into a MOU for the police department to institute a comprehensive modernized policing plan that included implementing 45 reform recommendations made by expert consultants. This also included additional review from the justice department to expand upon and add any additional recommendations needed to modernize current policies and practices of police, assist with implementation of the recommendations, and independently evaluate the police department’s compliance with the recommendations. The DOJ’s decision to enter into the MOU to reform its policing came in light of several high-profile uses of force, including a number of officer-involved shootings.

When the MOU expired on June 5, 2023, the police department had achieved substantial compliance with 20 out of the 45 agreed-upon recommendations. During the review of systems and practices by the police under the MOU, the DOJ concluded that police failed to uniformly and adequately enforce the law, based in part, because of defective or inadequate policies, practices, and procedures. Under the terms of the settlement, police and the City of Vallejo are required 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.

That same month the parties agreed on a comprehensive five-year plan to address the numerous areas that need improvement and modernization to bring the VPD into alignment with contemporary best practices and ensure constitutional policing. However, the stipulated judgment had remained unsigned by the court and therefore unenforceable.

Under the settlement, the VPD 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” (2020 Recommendations). Additionally, under the agreement police 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.

—Enhance, promote, and strengthen partnerships within the community, to continue engaging constructively with the community to ensure collaborative problem-solving and bias-free policing, and to increase transparency and community confidence in the VPD.

—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.

—Prohibit officers from conducting consent searches during consensual encounters. Officers may not conduct a consent search after detaining a subject unless an officer reasonably suspects that the subject has contraband or evidence related to that detention, and the consent must be documented on body camera footage or a signed consent form.

—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.

—Commit to providing bias-free services and enforcing laws in a way that is professional, nondiscriminatory, fair, and equitable.

—Work with Hughes and DOJ to develop a policy and protocol for responding to calls involving a person in mental health crisis or suffering from a mental health disability. The policy and protocol will include utilizing professional civilian staff, who are trained professionals in responding to mental health crises, to respond when appropriate and available.

—Develop and implement policies, guidelines, and training to ensure all supervisors and managers: Exercise appropriate supervisory oversight.

—Conduct objective and impartial investigations.

—Engage with and listen to community feedback.

—Incorporate community feedback when able and appropriate.


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