Vallejo’s declaration of a public safety emergency — which opened the door to a slate of intended policing reforms — survived a legal battle Wednesday and will stay in effect after a judge ruled against the Vallejo Police Officers’ Association, which had challenged the city’s action.
The police officers’ association, or VPOA, had asked for a temporary restraining order to prevent the city from instituting the public emergency, which, among other things, allows the police chief to implement policy and policing changes without first consulting with the VPOA.
Following Judge Wendy Getty’s ruling in Solano County Superior Court, Vallejo City Manager Greg Nyhoff said in a statement: “We are disappointed that the VPOA chose to take this approach. We hope in the future VPOA will continue to work with us rather than take this obstructionist approach.
“Our number one priority here is to serve our community and provide them with a police department that they can take pride in and trust. This is the start of a long journey in the reform of our police department, and we are wholly committed to seeing this reform through to completion,” he said.
An attorney for the officers’ association, Peter Hoffmann, said, “As Judge Getty denied the request without prejudice, the VPOA preserves its right to return to court in the event the city takes action under its unlawful proclamation.”
“This is the start of a long journey in the reform of our police department, and we are wholly committed to seeing this reform through to completion.”Greg Nyhoff, Vallejo city manager
The City Council unanimously declared the public safety emergency Oct. 6 amid rising crime rates — with 23 murders in 2020, Vallejo is on track for its deadliest year since 1994 — police scandals and millions of dollars in potential financial losses related to dozens of pending civil rights cases and claims against the city related to police actions.
The VPOA, in its legal argument, claimed the city is not facing a “legitimate emergency”; that the emergency is based on “labor controversy” related to efforts to implement police reforms and discipline officers; and that the association would be “substantially harmed” by the emergency.
The public safety emergency cleared the way for the city to institute a long list of intended police reforms, ranging from increasing the diversity and caliber of new officers, to working more closely with other law enforcement agencies, to evaluating whether some police functions should be done by other private or public agencies or by non-sworn personnel.
Two elements of the plan stand out.
One would allow Police Chief Shawny Williams — who joined the department in November 2019 and said his office is completely undermanned to carry out significant reforms — to bring management staff onboard without going through the normal civil service hiring process.
The second would allow the city to implement reforms without going through the required meet and confer process with the VPOA. State labor laws require employers to consult with employees whose working conditions would be affected by new policies before those policies are enacted. Those discussions can lead to lengthy negotiations that would slow the progress of needed reforms, city officials say. Under the conditions of the emergency, the city must meet with the VPOA after reform steps are implemented.
VPOA officials say it is the association that has pressed for reforms and that the city and police department leadership have failed to move forward on them.
Hoffman, the association’s attorney, said in an email that the city has done nothing yet to address the emergency it declared two weeks ago, which supports the VPOA’s case the emergency declaration was illegal.
“Perhaps nothing is more telling about the city’s purported emergency than the fact that it has taken no action to remedy the situation in the 15 days since the council adopted the proclamation,” he said.