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Vallejo Police Reversal on Victims Center Opening Cited as Another Failure of Transparency

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Vallejo Police Department Chief Shawny Williams speaks during a virtual opening ceremony for the department's new CARE Center for victims of abuse. (Vallejo Police Dept./Facebook)

The Vallejo Police Department is under scrutiny again after holding a virtual opening ceremony for a new center for victims of abuse, despite concerns about transparency from activists and several city councilmembers.

The event was streamed on Facebook Monday morning after the police department's public information officer told the press that the event — originally planned as an outdoor ribbon cutting — would be postponed, adding more skepticism around the process of opening the department's new Community Assistance Resource and Engagement (CARE) Center.

Vallejo police officials have said the new center will provide a safe space for child and adult victims of abuse, and will operate in collaboration with local advocacy groups and the Vallejo Police Department. But activists and local officials have said the plan is soured by Vallejo police's lack of transparency and history of violence in the community.

“We don’t trust the police department,” said Louis Michael, founder of Vessels of Vallejo, a grassroots community group formed in the wake of last year's police murder of George Floyd. “The fact that they haven’t taken accountability, and they continue to practice their idea of what they call ‘21st century policing and community policing,’ and yet, nothing has changed.”

Vessels of Vallejo had planned to protest the ribbon-cutting outside the police department waterfront building slated to house the new CARE Center. The group decided to move forward with their protest even after the ribbon cutting was postponed.

Michael said they found out the department was still planning to continue with some kind of opening ceremony when cars started arriving and people entered the building.

“We were there to protest the lack of transparency within the Vallejo Police Department, and they respond with more lies,” Michael said. “They continue to do things behind closed doors and leave out the public.”

The police department did not respond to questions about why they moved forward with the opening ceremony after postponing it.

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Michael said he did not know the police department had been planning the CARE Center at all — and only found out about it after reading an article published by freelance journalist John Glidden on Friday.

Vallejo District 6 councilmember Cristina Arriola is one of three other members of the city council — including District 3’s Mina Diaz and Mayor Robert McConnell — who do not support the project. Arriola attended the protest at the waterfront Monday.

“[Protesters] felt that the police department was using victims as pawns or props for a PR opportunity to draw attention away from the bad handling of other missteps that the police department has handled,” Arriola said.

Arriola said they also expressed the sentiment that the city council and mayor had not been properly informed about the center’s opening. There's also skepticism around its effectiveness for individuals who have suffered abuse from Vallejo police themselves.

"This 'grand opening' of a CARE program office was orchestrated without transparency," Mayor McConnell said in a statement on Facebook Sunday. "This is an utter tragedy."

A few family members who spoke at the protest voiced their concern about being victims themselves and not being comfortable walking into a building to receive services where there might also be people who were complicit in the death of their loved ones.

Since 1997, Vallejo police have killed 37 men — and 16 of them were killed after 2011. So far, no police officers have faced charges.

More on Vallejo PD

Arriola believes a center for abuse victims is necessary, but she does not support the location of it at the waterfront property on 400 Mare Island Way, which Vallejo police and city officials are hoping to turn into the department’s new headquarters.

“There are so many other vacant buildings with the same amount of acreage that could be utilized, away from the waterfront,” she said. “We don't want the police on the waterfront, it's as simple as that. Furthermore, we don't have the money. They really tried to raise taxes last election cycle with Measure G and that failed.”

A press release by the police department shortly after the Facebook live event stated the CARE Center would provide a multi-disciplinary team approach to healing for victims, including but not limited to a law enforcement investigator or detective, a Solano County Child Welfare Services representative or mental health professional who would evaluate and connect victims to trauma recovery and therapy services.

“The creation of this center is part of our 21st Century Policing goals,” Vallejo Police Department Chief Shawny Williams said in the press release. “We have more work to do in strengthening relationships and trust, but this center is a big step in building bridges with our community.”

The center will be funded via grants, donations and the Supplemental Law Enforcement Services Fund.

The police department has not announced a date when the center will officially open for services.

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