Residents seek transparency and accountability as new Vallejo police chief is announced

The Vallejo Police Department, after years of turmoil, is getting a new police chief.

Shawny Williams was chosen among five finalists, and almost 50 applicants to lead the embattled department, beset by lawsuits and community unrest.

Williams is the first African American to lead the department.

The previous chief retired under intense criticism as Vallejo has paid out millions of dollars in settlements for wrongful deaths and excessive force by officers.

"I'm 65 years old and I grew up here," said Diana Johnson, enjoying the music of a downtown arts festival Friday evening.

The new chief, she says, needs to build trust. "Police officers need to be more humble and more generous to the public instead of accusing everybody of things they didn't do," said Johnson.

Shawny Williams has been with the San Jose Police Department more than 26 years - rising from an officer to Deputy Chief.

In a statement, he said he was humbled and honored to be chosen and looked forward to "tackling challenges together."

"We have had some hurt, we have had some pain, and this is the start of beginning to heal," said Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan, who retired as a Sergeant at Vallejo police department.

Vallejo's city manager made the final selection, but Sampayan says community workshops helped hone the qualities people wanted.

And in final interviews involving a citizen panel, Williams sailed to the top.

"His idea of community spirit, community involvement, very strong on being out in the community and that's what we need in our new police chief," said Sampayan.

But police watchdogs wonder if William's hiring is really a turning point.

"I feel like now we're going to be guinea pigs," said civil rights attorney Melissa Nold. "I hope he does a great job but he's not tested in any way."

Nold represents many families who claim loved ones have been wrongfully abused or killed by officers.

Some incidents were captured on police body-cameras, others on cell phones, and some occurred off-duty as well as while in uniform.

"It's beyond the people who have been killed. It's the daily disrespects, the arrests that shouldn't have happened, and the racial profiling," said Nold.

She would have preferred a candidate who has already been a chief, and reformed a department.

"A strong chief has the ability to demand discipline which is our biggest problem in Vallejo - things going on that nobody is getting in trouble for."

Some young people who have grown up in Vallejo can't remember when police relations were ever good.

"I don't have any kind of criminal background but I'm fearful for my own self because of my skin color or my age range," said Naitesha Silas, 23. "Because of what I've seen happen around me, I feel safer if I don't call the police."

And when Williams takes the reins in November, he will also be saddled with high crime rates.

"I live on an active corner and I see a lot of what happens close and personal," said resident Phil Bandy, watching as two police cruisers stopped on his block, lights flashing.

Bandy hopes that along with transparency and accountability, the new chief can make the community safer.

"We need officers with the personal touch, but they live in a pretty harsh environment," said Bandy. "It's dangerous here, for what they do."

Williams will earn an annual salary of $261,000.

The U.S. Department of Justice, already invited to evaluate the department's policies and practices, may still come and advise as Williams takes over.