Vallejo Raises Police Pay, Limits Drug Testing Rules Despite Concern From Residents

Annice Evans, the mother of Angel Ramos, who was shot and killed by Vallejo Police in 2017, sits in the front row of a Vallejo City Council meeting Sept. 24, 2019. She wore stickers that said "coked cops kill" in opposition to the new police contract. (Ericka Cruz Guevarra/KQED)

Vallejo’s City Council approved changes to the city’s contract with its police officers in a 6-1 vote Tuesday evening, including limiting when police officers can be required to submit to drug or alcohol testing.

The city’s renewed agreement with rank-and-file officers comes at a time when the department is facing public scrutiny over high-profile police shootings of black and brown men. The agreement also includes a 5% raise for officers.

Vallejo Police Shootings
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The Vallejo Police Officers Association proposed deleting a section of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) that outlines when an officer might be subject to drug and alcohol testing. The proposed change was discovered in a nearly 900-page staff report by Open Vallejo, a group that advocates for government transparency.

The section of the MOU on the chopping block explicitly states that the department may order an officer to submit to a drug or alcohol test following a police shooting, a vehicular accident resulting in injury or death, or any incident in which an officer's action results in death or great bodily harm.

Now, officers will only be subject to drug and alcohol testing if a supervisor determines there’s reasonable suspicion of intoxication.

"I have absolutely no faith in the police to police themselves, and to say that something is reasonably suspicious," said Lisa Davis, a Vallejo resident and registered nurse attending the City Hall meeting Tuesday. "I am held to a higher standard, I am responsible for people's lives. I wouldn't have any problem with being drug tested."

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Davis was one of about a dozen Vallejo residents lined up to voice displeasure over the change ahead of City Council’s vote.

A representative of the city’s bargaining team said the change was meant to fix outdated, “problematic,” language in the old agreement.

"This change reflects the current practice, which is in line with industry best practices in other departments,” said Heather Ruiz, the city's director of human resources. “There is nothing preventing the City from testing officers when there is cause based on reasonable suspicion, whether that suspicion occurs post-incident, or at any other time."

Vallejo resident Lisa Davis voices her opposition to a new police contract at a City Council meeting on Sept. 24, 2019.
Vallejo resident Lisa Davis voices her opposition to a new police contract at a City Council meeting on Sept. 24, 2019. (Ericka Cruz Guevarra/KQED)

Just one council member voted against the new contract.

Councilman Robert McConnell said he agreed with salary increases under the new contract, but said he'd like to see the city return to the negotiation table over the issue of drug and alcohol testing.

"My preference would be to send this back,” McConnell said to applause from residents, “so that the two sides here could possibly come up with a better definition of when each side would expect this mandatory testing should be done."

A police expert questioned the city’s timing.

"It raises all kinds of red flags: Why now?" said LaDoris Cordell, a retired superior court judge in Santa Clara County and the former independent police auditor for the City of San Jose. "I think the timing raises alarm bells, [is] highly suspicious, and yet another reason why this provision should stay in this agreement given these shootings that have been perpetrated by this police department."

City Human Resources Director Ruiz said that while terms of the old agreement allowed the department to order testing after police shootings, it still didn't require the testing, and testing was not consistently conducted.

But that means the city should beef up the language to clearly require drug testing, resident Calvin Harrell told the City Council, to prevent officers from deciding to cover for each other.

“Friends don't snitch on friends," he said.

City Council members were more focused on broader updates to the police contract, which they said ultimately make wages more competitive with other police departments and allow the city to recruit and keep the best officers.

"The Vallejo Police Officers' Association is encouraged with the steps that have been achieved in bringing Police Officers in Vallejo closer to a competitive wage," officers’ union president Mat Mustard in a press release. "Recruitment and retention of quality Police Officers in the City of Vallejo must continue to be a priority."

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