VALLEJO, Calif. (KTVU) - Vallejo’s city leaders have agreed to launch an independent review of its embattled police department after several 2 Investigates reports exposed excessive force allegations and millions of dollar spent on city legal settlement costs.
In the 18 months Greg Nyhoff has been Vallejo’s city manager, he has remained relatively behind-the-scenes. On Wednesday, he agreed to a sit-down interview with 2 Investigates to talk about the independent assessment and his plans to rebuild public trust in the police department and city as a whole.
“Let us go through this assessment. Let us be transparent with you. Let us tell you these are the problems we’re finding and How we’re going to change them,” he said.
Nyhoff said he and city council members are finalizing the city’s contract with independent firm The OIR Group to perform the Police Department Assessment. The process will be led by veteran former federal civil rights prosecutors. Assessors are expected to start their work in Vallejo in a couple weeks. Nyhoff said he is committed to posting the results on a monthly basis on the city’s new site: www.unitevallejo.net.
The assessors will work on an hourly basis and there will be a financial cap of $100,000 said Nyhoff.
“I don’t think there’s been a more important time than right now that transparency to this community must occur,” Nyhoff said.
The City of Vallejo has come under harsh scrutiny after a number of controversial fatal police shootings, which include the deaths of Willie Mccoy and Ronell Foster. More public outcry resulted from viral video of Vallejo Police Officer David McLaughlin pointing a gun at a man after a minor argument. McLaughlin ended up being the same officer who allegedly tackled another man for recording a traffic stop a few months later. After a 2 Investigates report, the officer was placed on leave and is now back on limited duty. The men involved in the incidents have both filed claims against Vallejo and said McLaughlin is not fit to be a police officer.
Melissa Nold is an attorney for The Law Offices of John Burris. The law firm that specializes in civil rights cases represents several families impacted by Vallejo police shootings.
"I think the City hiring an outside investigator is a start," Nold said. "How we just have to hope that the City is willing to accept the critique, so they can enact the necessary changes that will save lives."
Nyhoff said accountability, in his opinion, will be when the City of Vallejo successfully implements the changes determined by the assessment.
“Are there situations that could’ve been handled differently? Is this assessment going to help [Vallejo police] do better? Yes. Do I think every officer needs to be held accountable for what they’re doing? Yes,” Nyhoff said.
When asked about his opinion on the outgoing police chief Andrew Bidou, Nyhoff explained Bidou came to the department during a difficult time. When Vallejo faced bankruptcy the department had to let go half that department, he said.
“When you look at the number of officer involved shootings and claims, you can see it’s around the same time,” he said. “But I do think he did a good job.”
The announcement of the independent assessment comes as a disappointment to Vallejo critics who believe an agency with investigatory powers, like CA’s Attorney General, needs to intervene.
“Vallejo doesn’t have a PR problem. It has a violence problem,” Nold said during a past protest in front of Vallejo City Hall.
On Tuesday, Nyhoff appointed an interim police chief. His said he plans to fill the full time spot by October 2019.
The City of Vallejo is working with the recruitment firm, Ralph Anderson & Associates, to conduct a nationwide search for that chief, which includes: community meetings, opportunities for online input and two interview panels with community members involvement.
*Editor's note: This story was updated on June 20, 2019 to reflect reaction to the City of Vallejo hiring an independent assessor.