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Calif. city might declare state of emergency due to shortage of police officers

The department is so short staffed that it has temporarily disbanded its traffic division and started rotating one detective per week to work a patrol shift

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Vallejo Police Department

By Daniel Egitto
Times-Herald, Vallejo, Calif.

VALLEJO, Calif. — City staff members are recommending that Vallejo declare a state of emergency because so few police officers remain in the city.

The recommendation, according to city documents, comes as the Vallejo Police Department “has now reached a critical stage in staffing,” with just 43 sworn officers to patrol the entire city. Declaring a state of emergency would broaden City Manager Mike Malone’s responsibilities and obligate him to “take all reasonable and legal steps to ensure that all available resources are provided to the police department.”

Officials will vote Tuesday on whether to accept the staff’s request, which is included in the agenda packet for a regularly scheduled Vallejo City Council meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Vallejo City Hall.

‘A circumstance of extreme peril’

The Vallejo Police Department has lost five officers since March, according to city documents —leaving just nine supervisors and 34 officers available for patrol as of Saturday. Staffing has gotten so problematic, the police department has temporarily disbanded its traffic division and has begun rotating one detective per week to work a patrol shift.

With an additional three officers scheduled to leave in the next month, police say they may entirely stop responding to some calls in the future.

For instance, the department currently spends a total of 115 hours every month following up on alarm calls, 98% of which turn out to be false alarms. According to city documents, officers are working with the city attorney’s office to make it legal for them to stop responding to these calls.

Even with these changes, as well as a potential move to mandatory 12-hour shifts, documents state that the agency still doesn’t have the personnel it needs.

“With approximately 126,000 residents, numerous visitors and businesses in the city, the current level of police staffing represents a circumstance of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property within the city,” the agenda packet states.

Almost all sworn personnel are already working forced overtime, according to city documents. Even so, police response times “are greatly extended” —especially for calls that aren’t deemed top priority.

On average, almost an hour and a half —84.26 minutes —passes between the time Vallejo emergency services receive a call warranting police response and the time an officer is dispatched, a recent Solano County Grand Jury report found.

While police usually have a relatively quick response to calls concerning in-progress property crimes and crimes threatening people’s physical safety, documents note that most other calls “are significantly delayed in response times.”

What does a state of emergency mean?

Vallejo is authorized to declare a state of emergency when the city is experiencing “actual or threatened conditions of disaster or of extreme peril,” according to city documents.

Per Vallejo’s emergency operations plan, declaring a “local public safety staffing emergency” would make Malone the director of emergency services as well as the city manager. He would receive “the power to marshal the forces of the different city departments to deputize or employ without reference to civil service all personnel necessary for the purpose of protecting the city and its residents,” according to documents.

If approved, a local state of emergency would be in place until the city council terminated it. Council members would review the declaration every 60 days to ensure that it was still necessary.

It’s unclear when, if ever, the Vallejo Police Department’s staffing shortage will end. Its force has shrunk every year since 2020, when the death of Sean Monterrosa at the hands of a Vallejo police officer sparked an explosion of protests over the department’s high rate of officer-involved shootings.

In a March presentation to the Vallejo City Council, officers listed numerous issues affecting agency morale. These include a perceived lack of support from the community and the council, delays in building a new police station, the lack of a finalized contract with the city and a perception of unachievable expectations.

Tuesday’s agenda packet notes, “The continuing erosion of staffing will further exacerbate this situation.”

Officers warned in March that if staffing levels get too low, the police department might have to ask the Solano County Sheriff’s Office to take over law enforcement in Vallejo.

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