Georgia Street in downtown Vallejo. (Justin Sulivan/Getty Images)
Georgia Street in downtown Vallejo. (Justin Sulivan/Getty Images)

KQED interviewed Vallejo City Manager Daniel E. Keen about the spike in fatal shootings by Vallejo police in 2012 and beyond. Keen declined to speak in person and said he would answer questions only by email. Here is an edited version of that interview.

Q.  How has Vallejo’s bankruptcy impacted public safety in the city? I understand the police department has lost a significant number of officers, and is now making a recruitment push to replenish staff.

A.  Vallejo’s significant decline in property tax and sales tax revenue, as a result of the recession, had a significant negative impact on public safety staffing for both police and fire. Both departments reduced staffing by more than 40 percent at the lowest staffing point.  At one time, the Vallejo Police Department was authorized staffing for 158 sworn officers. That authorized staffing level had dropped to 88 officers, with actual staffing dropping to as low as 77 officers in 2013. Today, the Vallejo Police Department has an authorized sworn staffing level of 110 police officers. As of May 1, 2014, actual sworn staffing is at 91 police officers with an additional four (4) police trainees attending the police academy. We anticipate that our sworn staffing level will be at 95-98 police officers by June 30, 2014, and we believe that we will reach 105-110 sworn by Dec. 31, 2014.

Vallejo’s bankruptcy process provided the opportunity to restructure labor agreements and has reduced the cost of providing public safety services to the community. Additionally, in November 2011 Vallejo voters approved Measure B (1 percent sales tax for 10 years) which has provided increased resources for investment in public safety technology and staffing.

Q.  Are there additional socioeconomic factors that can also affect public safety? For instance, I know that in 2012 there were 14 homicides in Vallejo and 24 in 2013 (not counting fatal officer-involved shootings). Do you think economic issues in the city (unemployment or others) are affecting this trend, and what is the city doing about it?

A.  The spike of homicides in 2013 are most directly attributed to gang activity in Vallejo. More than 75 percent of all homicides in 2013 were gang-related. The nearby city of Fairfield has experienced many of the same violent crime-related incidents that we have seen in Vallejo. There are numerous socioeconomic factors related to violent crimes in our country. However, most law enforcement agencies throughout California; from Fresno to Oakland and Stockton to Sacramento, will agree that issues pertaining to gangs, a proliferation of firearms, and drugs and alcohol are quite often associated with violent crimes, including homicide.

Over the past two years, the Vallejo Police Department has initiated and implemented numerous crime prevention and crime intervention strategies in an effort to combat and reduce violent crimes in our community.  We believe that many of the proactive steps taken have had a positive effect by way of reducing violent crimes in Vallejo in the first quarter of 2014.  The command staff of the department recently met with the Eastern District U.S. Attorney and several other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, ATF, IRS, Stockton and Sacramento Police Departments, Sacramento and Solano Sheriff’s Departments, California Highway Patrol and crime analysis partners in an effort to discuss common problem-solving strategies and to search for solutions to reduce violent crimes in our communities.

The Vallejo Police Department conducted joint targeted enforcement operations with the California Highway Patrol and Solano County Sheriff’s Department in 2013, and a Vallejo police officer will be assigned to the Solano Sheriff’s Special Enforcement Team in 2014 to assist in the focus on parolees and probationers in Solano County, especially those who are prone to commit violent crimes.  We have also initiated discussions with our local FBI office to place a Vallejo police officer on a new FBI “Safe Streets Task Force.”

U.S. Department of Justice’s 2013 Visit

Q.  I understand the U.S. Department of Justice facilitated a series of community meetings in early 2013 in an effort to improve the relationship between the community and Vallejo’s Police Department. Was that effort successful, and is the city doing anything else to continue this effort?

A.  Yes, The U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service assisted the City of Vallejo with a series of community meetings designed to focus on relationships between the Vallejo Police Department and the community in an effort to build trust and relationships.  We believe that the meetings were successful in providing information directly to community members in small group settings. Since that time, the Vallejo Police Department has established a Community Relations Section within the department. The Community Relations Section has reached out to the community and provided information and training on crime prevention; established new and reinforced existing Neighborhood Watch programs; held neighborhood and community meetings; and attended many other community meetings with a focus on enhancing police/community relations.

The Department also reviewed citizen complaints and revised our policies and procedures related to the citizen complaint process.

From 2012-2013 the Vallejo Police Department worked closely with a Citizens Public Safety Advisory Committee. The committee made numerous recommendations for the enhancement of public safety, police/community relationships, public safety communication and police professionalism in our community. The Department embraced these suggestions, and numerous policy, procedure and program changes were implemented as a result of this successful police/community partnership.

Q.  Is there any other effort underway in the city of Vallejo to reduce the number of fatal or otherwise violent contacts between police and citizens, especially citizens who are unarmed?

A.  For the past two years, the Vallejo Police Department has invested thousands of hours of training to ensure that our officers are prepared to respond to any critical incident or potential violent confrontation.  In 2013, the department purchased (and incorporated into our training regimen) a state-of-the art defensive tactics and firearms simulator that trains our officers in “decision-based scenarios” related to potential violent contacts.  The Vallejo Police Department continually reviews, evaluates and amends policies and procedures related to use of force and response to critical incidents. For the past two years, the department has been engaged in a complete renovation of policies and procedures by way of transitioning to the “Lexipol” Policy Manual.  More than 95 percent of California law enforcement agencies and more than 1,500 total public safety agencies subscribe to the Lexipol Policy system. The department has made numerous policy and procedure changes during these past two years, and the implementation of the Lexipol system in the next few months will complete a very comprehensive review and change of key department policies. The Vallejo Police Department is currently in the final meet-and-confer stage with the Vallejo Police Officer’s Association to complete this transition.

Virtually every day, Vallejo PD officers encounter individuals with firearms and other dangerous weapons.  In 2012 and 2013, through direct contact with citizens and Vallejo police officers, each year, more than 200 illegal firearms were seized from individuals in Vallejo.  In 2013, Vallejo police officers responded to hundreds of “shots-fired” calls, including more than 200 shootings where individuals were victims of firearms violence.

Q.  Regarding the Vallejo Police Department’s recruitment effort, I recently found a video published April 16, 2014, on YouTube and propagated in your newsletter. The video shows a line of six police officers holding assault rifles and shotguns, a K-9 officer commanding a dog that then runs off screen, an officer drawing his handgun against a backdrop of a man on a front lawn, and a mock SWAT raid in which officers throw a (tear gas?) grenade into a home and then charge in. When I showed this video to an independent legal expert I’ve interviewed for this story, he was amazed and talked at length about it showing a disregard for the Vallejo Police Department’s recent history of fatal shootings of civilians, which continues beyond 2012. Is the level of dramatized lethal force in this video appropriate, given Vallejo’s crime rate and/or officer-involved fatal incident record? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12d9Y_xM7VY

A.  Your independent legal expert certainly has his/her right to their opinion regarding the Vallejo Police Department’s Recruitment Video.  We disagree with the assessment that this recruitment video displays a disregard for citizens in Vallejo.

Q.  Finally, the independent legal expert I have interviewed for this story said if a single police officer is involved in more than one fatal incident in the period of a year, it becomes a question of department management rather than actions of the individual officer, and that officer would almost always be reassigned. I have information that at least two officers in the Vallejo Police Department fit that criteria: Sean Kenney (3) and Joseph McCarthy (2). Does the department or the city have any policy regarding this issue? (Note: this question would likely be better directed to your police chief, but repeated requests for comment from Joseph Kreins resulted in Lt. Sid De Jesus telling me that as a new “organizational policy,” the department would no longer comment at all on any aspect of officer-involved shootings).

A.  The Vallejo Police Department investigates, or provides for the investigation of every such incident, and makes decisions about potential reassignment based on the information revealed in the investigation.

  • golfbunny

    Vallejo is full of cognitively impaired, barely functioning individuals who carry loaded guns with them at all times. They have no coping mechanism and are quick to anger. When they are approached by an officer they attempt to flee, and if they are unable to do that, they fight back, violently. 2 years ago a highly respected officer was shot to death in the backyard of Vallejo’s worst, seething ghetto. Shot in the back, while trying to apprehend an armed bank robber. The shortage of police officers has emboldened these ghetto zombies, so that now they feel entitled to do whatever they want without consequence. These officers are now functioning like a small military unit, going from call to call barely putting out fires. Before you crucify the entire department, try spending some time in this new ghetto hellhole. The neverending noise, trash, graffiti, boarded up buildings, crime and destroyed school system can all be traced back to the same place. It is the aftermath of how they live their lives. Listen to a police scanner for a few hours, any time of day. Treating these criminals like they are helpless victims is the mentality that has created this mess. Parts of the Bay Area look like a war torn third world country. And you are partly to blame.

    • Cyndi Mitchell

      Capoot was shot in the back while chasing a Bank robbery suspect. he was found by a cop who was chasing after the cop that was chasing after the suspect. hmmm. isn’t it strange how we never heard much about their being another person involved with the robbery?… It’s also sad how the coroner was intimidated by police and the district attorney as they tried to force her to change her autopsy findings in cases. I’m sure this is a common occurrence, makes you wonder how many times this has been done. their is no justice system in the city of Vallejo just a pool of corruption. People do not see this corruption because they don’t care about situations that don’t affect them.

  • moving on

    Living in Vallejo has opened my eyes to the impact of poverty, cultural and socioeconomic disparity. I’ve gone from a help these folks mentality, and after trying that, which often gets a FU response, to a more hardline approach. We need clear rules and quick effective response. That’s what the police are for.

  • Cyndi Mitchell

    The taxes of the citizens pay for public service. Our public servants should not have the option of not answering when situations arise that needs answering. Public service is the profession that they chose, I’m sure their were certain oaths that were taken, not speaking should not be an option. The Vallejo Police Departments video confirms the arrogance of the police, The trigger happy behavior and the complete disregard for the people that they have sworn to protect. Three police cars for traffic stops which mean a minimum of three and possible 6 officers on a traffic stop, but they are understaffed (how is this possible)?
    They don’t come for burglaries but will shut down an intersection and three streets for a raccoon stuck in a storm drain? Photo Ops for the paper just like in the movies.
    Police officers who are real estate agents and falsely driving up crime rates to reduce property values and force homeowners out.
    when you can’t sit in your car in front of your home , minding your own business, maybe taking a phone call or smoking a cigarette if you smoke without having to worry about the constant occurrence of Vallejo Police Officers driving down the street without any headlights and jumping out of their squad cars with guns drawn on you and possibly killing you because in your state shock you did not raise your hands fast enough for their liking.
    Vallejo has a serious gang problem and they ride around at all times of the day speeding throughout the city, running red lights, harassing, intimidating people. flashing bright lights in windows and killing and injuring our loved ones but we never see the arrest of any of these gangsters, we only hear about their existence and their demand for money. We live in fear with the hopes that someday someone will come to our city and put an end to the criminal activity of the gang that’s employed by the Vallejo police department. One day…..until then we can only dream and hope

  • Kill me now

    Golfbunny makes me want to become a cop so I can show her how Vallejo does it. So self-righteous and indignant. Go back to the little white perfect world from whence you came and stop crapping on our city and insulting all other white people of higher IQ’s than you for God’s sake! I bet you make your spouse nuts with your inability to PIPE DOWN. Stop already! Jesus H. Christ you are the MOST amazingly intolerant poor example of an American that ever lived. Enough! My Lord you need to have your fingers removed so you stop hating. Its sickening.

Author

Alex Emslie

Alex Emslie is a news reporter focused on criminal justice policy, policing and legal issues. He left Colorado and a career as a carpenter in 2008 to study journalism at community college in San Francisco. He then graduated from San Francisco State University's journalism program with a minor in criminal justice studies. Emslie contributed to several Bay Area newspapers and online news outlets before joining KQED in 2013. He loves multimedia reporting, publishing source documents and transparency. He can be reached at aemslie@kqed.org and followed via @SFNewsReporter.

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