A police investigator wearing a dark suit with salt and pepper hair stands outside against a glass wall during daytime.
Former Vallejo Police Capt. John Whitney poses outside his attorneys’ office in Oakland, Calif. on Sept. 13, 2023. Credit: Geoffrey King / Open Vallejo

John Whitney was a decorated police captain with nearly 20 years on the Vallejo Police Department when he began raising concerns about alleged misconduct — including a secret post-killing ritual known as the “Badge of Honor,” in which officers bend the tips of their badges to mark each civilian they kill in the line of duty.

But the only person disciplined in the matter was Whitney. The department fired him in August of 2019, just months after he told the police chief that the practice needed to end. 

A former SWAT team commander with two master’s degrees, Whitney struggled to find work. He eventually landed a job as a patrol officer in nearby El Cerrito. 

Whitney filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the city of Vallejo in 2020, which he settled for $900,000 in September of this year.

Whitney spoke with Open Vallejo the following day about badge bending, the subsequent third-party investigation, and how the experience changed his views on law enforcement after more than 25 years in the profession.

Geoffrey King is the executive editor of Open Vallejo. Prior to founding Open Vallejo, Geoffrey worked as an attorney and journalist focused on free expression, open government, press freedom and privacy. He is a proud native of Vallejo, California.