In its latest annual report released this past week, the Vallejo Police Department cites significant declines in use of force incidents, city claims, and citizen complaints — three issues that Police Chief Shawny Williams was hired to address when he took over the embattled and at times infamous department in 2019.
But while most crime statistics have dropped under his watch, antagonism from the police union toward Williams reached its crescendo when the Vallejo Police Officers’ Association held a news conference excoriating the chief’s leadership.
The union’s attack on Williams has created some odd bedfellows who have been critical of the VPD for officer-involved shootings but are coming to his defense against the VPOA’s recent vote of no-confidence in the chief.
Attorney Melissa Nold is perhaps one of the loudest critics of Vallejo police, having represented families that have had members killed by Vallejo police officers. Yet last week she came to the chief’s defense on Twitter: “If the racist, badge bending murders (sic) hate him, you know he’s doing something right!”
Nold is referring to officers who bent their badges to mark officer-involved shootings of suspects, but she also speaks for people who believe that Williams has become a target by his force because he has attempted to fire “bad apples.”
Williams fired former Officer Michael Nichelini in 2021 for sending a taunting email to a reporter, among other things. Nichelini is the president of VPOA. The chief has also been moving to terminate the employment of Jarrett Tonn, who fired the shot that killed Sean Monterrosa in 2020. Williams also fired long-time Lt. Herman Robinson for sending unauthorized emails, though Robinson successfully sued to get his job back.
Not mincing words
At a July 27 VPOA news conference, the union said that Williams had targeted officers’ jobs, lacked transparency, and is “incompetent.”
“The citizens of this city are not safe under the leadership of Shawny Willliams and something has to be done,” said VPOA attorney Michael Rains.
Both the chief and the union agree that there is chronic understaffing at the department. The union claims that 20 percent of the force has left because of Williams. Williams has said that it has been hard to attract and retain officers due to the decrepit and outdated headquarters which is cramped, has toxins like asbestos and lead, and appears dated and drab.
The chief has been pushing to move the department to a large building on the city’s waterfront but has faced pushback from the community.
Vallejo PD has hired eight sworn officers this year as well as 20 non-sworn, according to the department.
“Our children deserve a better future. And the only way we’re going to be able to give them a better Vallejo is if we work together and not divided.”Councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz
Vallejo City Councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz, also outspoken about Vallejo’s track record of officer-involved shootings, released a recorded statement in support of Williams, where she said his leadership has brought more transparency and accountability to the Police Department.
Loera-Diaz cited numbers from the 2021 annual report released by VPD, which shows changes over the previous year. In it, the department reports a 33 percent decline in officer-involved shootings, 40 percent decrease in city claims, a 60 percent decrease in citizen complaints, and a 9 percent drop in violent crimes.
“Change is sometimes hard, but working together and not divided is the key to moving our city forward,” said Loera-Diaz. “I ask the community, the Vallejo Police Officers’ Association, the city staff to join us for the betterment of our community and our city. Our children deserve a better future. And the only way we’re going to be able to give them a better Vallejo is if we work together and not divided.”
Vallejo City Manager Mike Malone also released a statement in support of the chief, who he said has delivered a “noticeable” shift in reforms recommended in a 2020 report by an outside consultant the city hired to assess the department.
“We have seen quantifiable progress and accomplishments in our Police Department even amidst the many challenges they face,” said Malone. “The City Council and I continue to express our strong support for Chief Williams and the transformational reform initiatives being employed to create a department that serves the needs and desires of the Vallejo Community.”