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How the Vallejo Police Department Became the Most Violent in the Bay Area

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Photo of Vallejo Police officer (image Heavy.com)

This statement may surprise you, but Vallejo was fucked up before the San Francisco Chronicle and The New Yorker told you it was.  Before recent reporting began talking about the Vallejo Police Department’s ‘murder clique’, Vallejo suffered an insanely high rate of police misconduct and killings. While media attention and activists are prone to scrutinize America’s major cities, corruption in smaller, less relevant towns, can go unchecked for years, if not decades. Even here, in the supposedly “woke” Bay Area.

 In order to provide proper context to how a city that’s just 30 miles from San Francisco got into such a predicament, we need to rewind the clocks back to the ‘90s. Vallejo, like most cities on the northeastern end of the Bay, was an industrial city. While nearby cities across the bridge in Contra Costa County like Richmond and Martinez had oil refineries to bolster their local economies, Vallejo was dependent on the US Navy and their continued presence on Mare Island. The naval base on Mare Island closed in 1996 and Vallejo has yet to find an equivalent economic engine to fill the gaping hole left by the Navy’s permanent departure.

Mare Island Shipyard employed +40,000 ship builders & dock workers at its height.

As a result, Vallejo became the Bay Area’s poorest city with a median per capita income of $30,490. And when the ‘Great Recession’ of 2008 rolled around, due to lack of compromise on the part of Vallejo’s public safety unions, namely the VPOA (Vallejo Police Officers’ Association) the city filed for bankruptcy and a bad situation got exponentially worse.

VPD’s ranks shrank, but the rate of police involved shootings skyrocketed. In 2012, 4 years after the bankruptcy, the City of Vallejo experienced 20 homicides – 6 of which were attributed to the Vallejo Police Department. Despite these shocking numbers, there was little in terms of outrage from national media outlets or activists in larger Bay Area cities such as Oakland.

According to a report from NBC Bay Area, the Vallejo Police Department has killed an average of 13 people per 100,000 residents since 2011. A rate that puts them far ahead of Richmond, a nearby city of roughly the same size where crime occurs at around the same rate.

Taken at a Vallejo Sean Monterrosa rally on July 11th. Image posted by now Mayor of Vallejo, Robert H McConnell @VjoCCMcConnell

In the time Vallejo police killed 16 people, a per capita rate of 13.8, Richmond officers killed three, a per capita rate of 2.9” – NBC BAY AREA

This is beginning to change, with independent media groups, such as Geoff King’s Open Vallejo, bringing light to these issues, but without groups like Open Vallejo pre-packaging stories for larger media organizations to run after the fact, would these stories get covered at all?

The Monterrosa sisters are still fighting and organizing to find justice for their brother Sean.

Even with the revelation of a “murder clique” within the Vallejo Police Department. And I mean murder clique literally. It has been substantiated by various sources that a group of officers bent the tips of their badges and threw cookouts to celebrate and signify their kills without interference or interest from local politicians. John Whitney, former Captain of VPD, notified the police chief of the badge bending practice and was fired four months later according to reports from the San Francisco Chronicle.

“WE’RE SKEPTICAL THAT ANY INVESTIGATION OF BADGE-BENDING WILL BE EFFECTIVE IN HOLDING ANY OFFICER ACCOUNTABLE, BOTH BECAUSE THEY DESTROYED THE EVIDENCE OF THE MISCONDUCT, BY RETURNING THE BADGES TO THE OFFICERS, AND BECAUSE THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS HAS EXPIRED” – Attorney Alison Berry Wilkinson 

Most recently, the Vallejo Police Department was involved in the egregious, and in my opinion, dumbest fucking police shooting I’ve ever had the displeasure of viewing in my life. I’m talking about the murder of Sean Monterrosa. An incident which occurred when VPD responded to reports of looting at a Walgreens and then proceeded to approach the scene in unmarked cars. Once the police turned on the sirens, Sean dropped to his knees. His compliance was rewarded with a bullet to the head, fired from the backseat of an unmarked police car still in motion. However, unlike most victims of police violence in Vallejo, Sean wasn’t from Vallejo, he was from San Francisco and his death got the City’s attention. This occurred a year after VPD was in the news for shooting Willie McCoy, a local rapper who appeared to be asleep when officers fired 55 times into his vehicle. 

Mission District Mural for Mission born Sean Monterrosa.

Since Monterrosa’s murder, the misconduct of the Vallejo Police Department has gotten significantly more attention. Nancy Pelosi even mentioned that Monterrosa’s death needs to be investigated by the DOJ. Will that come to pass? Time will tell.

The worst part of this is that Vallejo’s plight and the senseless killings that resulted from it could’ve largely been avoided before spiraling out of control. Small towns don’t need to be overlooked havens for corruption. The media needs to treat injustice in the small towns the same way they injustice in the big ones: with relentless coverage and scrutiny.

It may cost some ad revenue, but it could save a life and in the long term, a city.

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Abraham Woodliff

Abraham Woodliff

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