The California Department of Justice has filed a civil complaint alleging that the Vallejo Police Department in California has violated people’s constitutional rights for years. The complaint accuses the police department of engaging in biased policing, using unreasonable force, conducting illegal traffic stops and arrests, and lacking oversight and accountability. The City of Vallejo and the Vallejo Police Department have denied these claims but have agreed to a stipulated judgment filed concurrently with the complaint.
The stipulated judgment, while admitting no wrongdoing, includes a series of reforms to be implemented under the supervision of an independent evaluator. Both parties expect to implement these reforms within five years. The civil complaint, filed by the California Attorney General’s office, accuses the Vallejo police of violating the U.S. and California Constitutions by maintaining a pattern and practice of excessive and unreasonable force, disproportionately impacting people of color, engaging in unreasonable stops, searches, arrests, and seizures, and failing to exercise appropriate management, supervision, and accountability.
The complaint does not provide specific examples or evidence of the alleged constitutional violations. This is not the first attempt at police reform in Vallejo. In 2020, the state Justice Department entered into a three-year contract with the city after the Vallejo Police Department was involved in the deaths of 19 individuals over a decade, making it one of the deadliest agencies in California. However, by the expiration of the contract in June, only a fraction of the recommended reforms had been implemented.
The new stipulated judgment includes an extensive list of additional reforms, particularly related to stops and searches, use-of-force policies, and handling of civilian complaints. An independent evaluator will provide an annual report on the city’s progress in meeting the terms of the agreement. If the city fails to comply, the Justice Department can seek court intervention. The city will bear the costs associated with the evaluator, who has yet to be selected.
Vallejo Police Officers’ Association (VPOA) has expressed support for the original recommended reforms but has not endorsed the latest legal development. The VPOA raised concerns about the potential impact of the reforms on the ongoing police officer shortage in Vallejo.
The Solano County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union had demanded a consent decree and a five-year extension of the DOJ’s involvement in Vallejo. The ACLU has welcomed the new agreement as a significant step forward.
The case is being presided over by Superior Court Judge Stephen Gizzi. The city will continue to meet its obligations to the Vallejo Police Officers’ Association throughout the reform process.