Three Vallejo SWAT officers take cover behind an armored vehicle during a standoff during daytime. One aims a rifle at an out-of-frame window.
Vallejo SWAT officers take cover behind an armored vehicle during a standoff on Aug. 23, 2023 in Vallejo, Calif. Nobody was shot during the encounter, which resulted in a man’s arrest on multiple charges. Credit: Geoffrey King / Open Vallejo

The Vallejo Police Department is considering replacing the traditional seven-point star badge worn by officers with one shaped like a shield in an apparent attempt to move beyond the agency’s badge-bending scandal, Open Vallejo has learned. 

The new badges represent a larger effort by Vallejo to rebrand its embattled police department, sources with knowledge of the matter said, a process that may involve the costly replacement or modification of officers’ uniforms, embroidered patches, patrol vehicles, letterhead, merchandise, and even the signs posted on police headquarters at 111 Amador St.

The expected changes include a new name and insignia for the agency, according to the sources, who spoke with Open Vallejo on condition of anonymity to describe sensitive discussions within the agency.

Public information officer Sgt. Rashad Hollis said the potential overhaul remains in the conceptual stage, with no details on the timeline, cost, or new designs confirmed or approved by city officials. Hollis did not elaborate on the reasoning behind the proposal. Interim Police Chief Jason Ta did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The anticipated badge replacement marks another example of the fallout from a 2020 Open Vallejo investigation that exposed a department tradition in which officers bend the tips of their star-shaped badges each time they kill a civilian. 

Although an official probe into the alleged practice concluded in September 2021, the city has yet to release the 150-page report, despite a 2019 state law making records “relating to” shootings and other critical incidents public. The only person known to have been disciplined in connection with the matter is former Vallejo Police Capt. John Whitney, who was terminated after raising concerns about the post-shooting ritual and other alleged misconduct, according to a whistleblower lawsuit he filed against the city in 2021. Vallejo settled the case for $900,000 in September.

Whitney declined to comment for this story. He previously told Open Vallejo that when he brought the issue of the bent badges to then-Police Chief Andrew Bidou, the chief ordered the badges returned to officers, saying the cost of repairing them could raise suspicions.

A rose by any other name

As part of the attempt to refresh the Vallejo Police Department’s image, officials are considering renaming the agency the Vallejo Police Services Department, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Those working on the rebrand have looked at preliminary designs for new shield-shaped badges and patches, the person said, although nothing has been decided.

A standard-issue, sterling silver officer badge costs the department roughly $300, and the 10-carat gold badges worn by Vallejo’s command staff can cost $650 or more, according to invoices obtained by Open Vallejo. 

The Vallejo Police Department currently employs 73 sworn personnel, according to a roster of current and former officers maintained by the Vallejo Police Officers’ Association. Staffing levels in the police department have dwindled in recent years; the department never fully rebounded from the city’s 2008 bankruptcy that saw the police force cut roughly in half. (The agency’s own pension costs were a contributing factor in the bankruptcy.)

Not everyone is pleased with the idea of changing the Vallejo Police Department brand, sources said. 

“We’ve been wearing stars for 124 years now. It’s kind of like throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” one source said. “They’re trying to make the police department into something that it’s not.” 

Others questioned what, if anything, the rebrand might accomplish.

“Changing to a shield will not change the culture of the department,” a person familiar with the planned rebrand said. “The leaders of the department are still the same.”

Vallejo’s police badges have primarily been manufactured by the Berkeley-based Ed Jones Co. since the 1950s, according to the Vallejo Police Officers’ Association. The department switched from brass to sterling silver badges in 2003, the year the badge-bending tradition allegedly began, though the shape remained the same. 

An employee with Ed Jones Co., who did not provide their name, declined to comment for this article when reached by phone Friday afternoon. 

“We’re not aware of what you’re saying,” they said. 

Vallejo’s star-shaped badges are also featured prominently in the department’s logo. Although the logo itself is shaped like a shield, it includes a gold seven-point star encompassing a tree, sailboat, and sun. The image is set on a blue background beneath the words: Vallejo Police. 

Officers typically don their silver badges for ceremonial or formal occasions. They generally wear an embroidered patch when performing patrol or other field duties, according to the department’s policy manual. Badges represent a “symbol of authority,” the handbook notes. 

In Vallejo, allegations of police misconduct extend beyond badge-bending. The California Department of Justice alleges in a lawsuit filed in October that the department displayed a pattern of violating the constitutional rights of citizens by using “excessive and unreasonable force,” among other things, according to the complaint filed in Solano County Superior Court. 

The city, police department, and state attorney general agreed to a sweeping five-year reform effort, although a judge has yet to sign off on the plan.

Anna Bauman is an investigative reporter with Open Vallejo.

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.