Vallejo Selects Shawny Williams to Head Police Department, Its First Black Chief

The city of Vallejo announced its selection of a new police chief on Friday, Sept. 13. The department has been under scrutiny after a string of police shootings of black and brown men. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Amid criticism over the handling of a recent string of fatal police shootings, Vallejo has selected a new chief to steer its embattled police department.

The city on Friday announced its selection of Shawny Williams to fill the role. Pending completion of a background check, he'll become the first black chief in the department’s history.

Williams has served in the San Jose Police Department for more than 26 years. Since becoming deputy chief in 2015, he has run the department's 190-person bureau of investigations. Williams holds a master's degree in organizational leadership and speaks Spanish fluently.

Shawny Williams (Courtesy of the city of Vallejo)

"Deputy Chief Williams is a solid professional with a stellar reputation who received broad accolades from our interview panels," said Vallejo City Manager Greg Nyhoff in a press release. "I am excited to have Chief Williams join our community and our leadership team. As 'Vallejo Unites' around our youth, our local job producing economic development opportunities, and our Police Department, I believe Chief Williams will be a very positive element in our future success."

Williams, who is expected to start in November,  will oversee a department of 173 full-time employees and 120 sworn officers. He will earn an annual base salary of up to $261,600, according to the city.

Williams' appointment comes just months after the retirement of Chief Andrew Bidou, who stepped down in April following a string of high-profile shootings of several black and brown men in the city.

In particular, the department has faced intense scrutiny in response to the February killing of Willie McCoy, whom Vallejo police shot 55 times after finding the 20-year-old unconscious in a Taco Bell parking lot. McCoy's family and other residents have repeatedly staged angry demonstrations at City Hall to protest the department's handling of the incident, demanding greater accountability.

"I am humbled and honored by this opportunity to serve as your new Police Chief in Vallejo," Williams said in a press release. "The position of police officer belongs to the people we serve. With that philosophy in mind, I look forward to participating in all aspects of the Vallejo community, building upon the Police Department's community policing and engagement efforts, and tackling challenges together. We must engage the hearts and minds of all residents, City employees, students, youth and the business leaders."

Some community advocates, however, have been critical of the hiring process, accusing the city of not following through on its promise to be more transparent.

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"There was a total lack of transparency during the process, so most of us had no idea who was even being considered," said Melissa Nold, an attorney who has represented families of people shot and killed by Vallejo police officers. "The community at large has no idea what his goals and values are, so all we can do is keep our fingers crossed that he truly understands the crisis we are facing in Vallejo."

The city said it made efforts to reach out to residents during the selection process, holding a community meeting on May 23 to better understand the community's priorities and inviting residents to complete an online survey. Six community members participated in the panel interviews to evaluate the top five candidates, the city said.

In an email to KQED in June, Nyhoff acknowledged Vallejo residents were seeking someone to lead the department who could be held accountable and respond to the concerns of the community.

"They want someone who is committed to the city of Vallejo and its community," Nyhoff said. "Someone who will hold themselves and the officers under their command accountable. Someone who is not afraid to make tough decisions, even if it’s unpopular."

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