Police Department in Vallejo, California Destroys Evidence of Police Killings

Credit: KQED Demonstrators outside the Vallejo Police Station demanding justice for Sean Monterrosa in 2020.

In January 2021, officials in Vallejo, California destroyed hundreds of pieces of evidence from at least six police shootings just as they were about to be made public. The evidence that was destroyed came from two of the city’s most violent years on record.

In fact, Vallejo Police Department (VPD) is one of the most violent police departments in the country. According to a KQED report, at its highest rate, police deaths by shooting were about 38 times the national rate. They’ve also killed more people per arrest than 97% of departments, according to Police Scorecard.

In response to their terrorizing of the community, Vallejo has seen waves of mass protest, and demands for investigation into the department. Organizations like Open Vallejo have fought to bring the department’s brutal practices to light. In 2018, a California law was passed that granted access to investigatory records on officer shootings and more. However, VPD has done everything it can to avoid opening their books.

Only months after the passage of Senate Bill 1421, a law that would require transparency in police shootings, the police department shortened their policies so that evidence from police killings would be destroyed after only five years. All other evidence from homicides is kept indefinitely. By the time the bill took effect, the new policy was already in place. Then in July 2019, Open Vallejo requested documents in accordance with the new law. After years of stalling, the California Department of Justice (DOJ) became involved, requiring VPD to produce the records by February 15, 2021. The police had already moved to cover their tracks. In January, just one month prior to the DOJ order, hundreds of files containing evidence of police shootings were destroyed. Among the evidence that was lost were audio and visual recordings of victims just before their deaths.

This isn’t the first time the department has behaved suspiciously. In 2019 it was revealed that officers were bending each other’s badges as a symbol of respect after they killed someone on duty. A secretive group of the most violent officers would congratulate each other for murder, and even celebrate with backyard barbecues. The department also has a record of so-called “mishandling” of evidence of police murders. Several pieces of evidence following the fatal shooting of Sean Monterrosa in 2020 were disposed of rather than being processed according to department guidelines, including drone footage that was mysteriously overwritten with zeros after being brought to the police chief’s office.

Police scandals are nothing new. After all, these are forces that are founded on racism, and to control the poor and working class. It is no wonder that one of the most violent and evasive departments is in a majority poor, working-class community of color. Their job is clearly not to keep us safe, but instead to terrorize our communities and keep us in our place.