In Vallejo, California, a former police captain is alleging a secretive ritual that has triggered an independent investigation into the city's embattled police force: he says some officers involved in fatal shootings since 2000 bent the tips of their star-shaped badges to mark each time they killed someone in the line of duty.
Former Vallejo police Capt. John Whitney, a 19-year department veteran and former SWAT commander who was fired from his job last August, first described the alleged tradition in an interview published this week by Open Vallejo.
According to the unaffiliated news outlet, officers involved in fatal shootings marked those incidents with backyard barbecues and were initiated into a "secretive clique" that included curving one of the tips of their seven-point sterling silver badge. The outlet said it spoke with more than 20 current and former government officials and reviewed records and hundreds of photographs taken before and after fatal shootings. Two officers named in the report denied having bent badges, with one telling Open Vallejo it was a "lie."
Vallejo, a Bay Area community of 122,000 people, has been in the spotlight for its high number of fatal police shootings in recent years — 18 since 2010 — compared with other California cities. Last month, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the Department of Justice will undertake an "expansive review" of the Vallejo Police Department after lawsuits claiming excessive force and residents' demands for an outside investigation into officers' actions.
Police Chief Shawny Williams, who became the first African American to head the department in November after the retirement of previous chief, Andrew Bidou, said Friday that he is calling for an outside investigation to begin as early as next week and could take several months. He said the formal investigation follows his initial inquiry into the allegations.
"We've received statements from two different sources within the Vallejo Police Department that badge bending has occurred," Williams said in a statement. "As a result of these very troubling and disturbing allegations, I've asked for an independent outside investigation to be completed by a third party." He did not immediately say who would conduct the investigation.
According to Open Vallejo, of the 51 current and former Vallejo officers who have been involved in fatal shootings since 2000, at least 14 had their badges bent by a colleague afterward as part of an "exclusive custom" that even some officers involved in the fatal shootings were never told existed.
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