Activists nationwide are calling for meaningful criminal justice reform. And, in the aftermath of the horrific killing of George Floyd, a clear majority of Americans are receptive to the message. But one slogan — “defund police” — is dominating the policing debate. Now, top officials from one city are encouraging a more moderate approach.
Vallejo City Manager Greg Nyhoff and Chief of Police Shawny Williams have issued a letter to the community.
Dear Vallejo Community,
In recent news and headlines, our City has been thrust into the spotlight as an epicenter for national discussions and debates on police reform. In the last year, the City of Vallejo and the Vallejo Police Department launched its reform efforts by hiring a new Chief of Police and seeking the outside guidance of policing experts from the OIR Group. We have also signed an agreement to collaborate with the California Department of Justice to seek their expertise, resources and oversight as we continue to implement reform. As we make new investments in our police operations and roll out new policies, we are also hearing calls to “defund the police” here in Vallejo. We write today to tell you why “defunding the police” would pose a significant challenge to our City.
The hard truth is that Vallejo already “defunded” its police department in 2008 when we declared bankruptcy. Our Police Department went from 146 authorized sworn officers in 2008 to a low of 93 authorized sworn officers in 2014 to save money as we worked through the financial calamity of the Great Recession. The Police Department budget dropped by approximately 29% from Fiscal Year 2006-2007 to Fiscal Year 2010-2011. While defunding positions in our police department in 2008 was forced upon us by bankruptcy, we should at least learn a lesson from the history of making that tough decision.
Vallejo police officers have a higher workload per officer than any other police department in the Bay Area, and more than the 50 largest police departments in America (according to data from 2018 FBI Uniform Crime Reporting). According to the same data, the City also has fewer officers per resident than almost any city in the Bay Area. And though we have a relatively small force compared to our population, there are a lot of needs in our community.
We recently shared the crime data for the first six months of 2020 with the community, and across the board we reported significant increases in homicides, rapes, and property crimes since last year. Crime demographics also show that the criminal activity is disproportionately impacting our Black and Latino communities. It is our responsibility to respond to emergencies and protect residents from crime, as well as to respond to non-emergency calls and address quality-of-life issues. A defunded police department would mean fewer officers and staff to address non-emergency calls (such as a stolen car or home burglary), potentially longer response times, as well as the possibility of increased violence on our streets. While it can be uncomfortable to discuss these types of projections, it is important that we have frank discussions about how budgets impact the Vallejo Police Department’s capacity to respond to victims of crime and help our community.
Our City is working actively to implement police reforms. The City also understands the need to invest in youth, education, economic development and other opportunities across our community. We invite the community to engage in this important discussion, read the police department audit report and share your thoughts via Open City Hall. Engage with us on a police reform project that both enables us to fight the crime that threatens our community and to develop the kind of innovative policing practices and oversight that healthy reform requires. The future of our community depends on it.
For context, it should be noted that the Vallejo Police Department is at the center of major controversy. In addition to a series of police shootings, a former captain now claims there is a secret clique within the department that has celebrated fatal shootings of suspects by police. The shocking allegations were reported by Open Vallejo. You can also read more about the claims at SF Gate.