By Daniel Egypt
Times-Herald, Vallejo, California.
VALLEJO, Calif. – City officials are recommending that Vallejo declare a state of emergency because so few police officers remain in the city.
The recommendation, according to city documents, comes as the Vallejo Police Department “has now reached a critical stage in staffing,” with only 43 sworn officers to patrol the entire city. Declaring a state of emergency would expand City Manager Mike Malone’s responsibilities, requiring him to “take all reasonable and legal steps to ensure that all available resources are provided to the police department.”
Officials will vote Tuesday on whether to accept the staff request, which is included in the agenda packet for a regularly scheduled Vallejo City Council meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m. 18.00 in Vallejo Town Hall.
‘A circumstance of extreme danger’
The Vallejo Police Department has lost five officers since March, according to city documents — leaving just nine supervisors and 34 officers available for patrol as of Saturday. Staffing has become such a problem that the police department has temporarily disbanded its traffic division and begun rotating one detective a week to work a patrol shift.
With three more officers scheduled to leave in the next month, police say they may stop responding to some calls altogether in the future.
For example, the department currently spends a total of 115 hours each month following up on emergency calls, of which 98% turn out to be false alarms. According to city documents, officers are working with the city attorney’s office to make it legal for them to stop responding to those calls.
Even with those changes, as well as a potential move to mandatory 12-hour shifts, documents show the agency still doesn’t have the staff it needs.
“With approximately 126,000 residents, numerous visitors and businesses in the city, the current level of police staffing represents a circumstance that poses an extreme danger to the safety of persons and property in the city,” the agenda package states.
Almost all sworn personnel are already working forced overtime, according to city documents. Still, police response times are “greatly extended” – especially for calls that are not considered top priority.
On average, nearly an hour and a half — 84.26 minutes — elapses between the time Vallejo emergency services receive a call warranting a police response and the time an officer is dispatched, a recent Solano County Grand Jury report found.
While police usually respond relatively quickly to calls regarding property crimes in progress and crimes that threaten people’s physical safety, documents note that most other calls “are significantly delayed in response times.”
What does a state of emergency mean?
Vallejo is authorized to declare a state of emergency when the city experiences “actual or threatened conditions of disaster or extreme danger,” according to city documents.
Per Vallejo’s emergency operations plan declaring a “local public safety personnel emergency” would make Malone the director of emergency services as well as the city manager. He would receive “the power to assemble the forces of the various city departments to deputize or employ without reference to public service all personnel necessary for the purpose of protecting the city and its inhabitants,” according to documents.
If approved, a local state of emergency will be in place until the city council terminates it. Council members would review the declaration every 60 days to ensure it was still necessary.
It’s unclear when, if ever, the Vallejo Police Department’s staffing shortage will end. Its force has shrunk every year since 2020, when the death of Sean Monterrosa at the hands of a Vallejo police officer sparked an explosion of protests over the department’s high rate of officer-involved shootings.
In a March presentation to the Vallejo City Council, the officers listed several issues affecting the agency’s morale. These include a perceived lack of community and council support, delays in building a new police station, the lack of a final contract with the city and a perception of unattainable expectations.
Tuesday’s agenda package notes: “The continued attrition of staff will further exacerbate this situation.”
Officials warned in March that if staffing levels get too low, the police department may have to ask the Solano County Sheriff’s Office to take over law enforcement in Vallejo.
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