'Today is a rebirth:' Vallejo Police Department swears in new police chief amid turmoil

VALLEJO, Calif. (KGO) -- There is a new leader of the Vallejo Police Department.

Chief Shawny Williams was sworn in Tuesday morning as the new police chief for the department, which has been in turmoil for years over police shootings and accusations of excessive force.

Williams comes from San Jose where he worked for nearly two decades. He is the city's first African-American police chief. He speaks Spanish.

His message at the swearing-in was one of unity.

"Today is a day of rebirth," Williams said. "Today we chart a new direction."

Williams was joined by his family, including his wife and 102-year year Aunt Ida. He called the day a "very proud" one.

Still, Williams is taking over at a tumultuous time for the department. Just this year, Vallejo officers fatally shot 21-year-old rapper Willie McCoy at a Taco Bell drive-thru.

A month earlier, a marine veteran claimed he was assaulted by an officer for filming their encounter.

ABC7 News asked Williams what his message is for people in the community who distrust Vallejo PD.

"If you've ever felt marginalized or not, I value you. If you've felt you haven't been heard, I hear you," he said, "And I'm a chief that will listen."

Melissa Nold is a Vallejo-based civil rights attorney. She is hopeful about Chief Williams but said he'll need to acknowledge the missteps of the past in order to build trust.

"The community has been terrorized by Vallejo PD for decades," Nold said. "I've been there for 42 years. It's been going on my entire life, and so I think there needs to be some sort of onus that there's a large wide gap of distrust between the police and citizens."

Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan said he believes Chief Williams will be the person to bridge the divide.

"Having a person of color as our chief of police, I think says that we have moved beyond the stereotype of a white male governing our PD," Mayor Sampayan said. "So, this is a different time for us."

When asked if he wants to see a change in the police department, Chief Williams said he mostly wants to see progress.

"I want to see progress and I want to see the right progress," he said, "And that has to be deliberate and intentional, and that's done through community inclusion, department inclusion and community policing."

Chief Williams declined to comment on the recent officer-involved shooting by a Richmond police officer in Vallejo, saying he had not yet been fully briefed on the situation. He said his number one priority, however, is the preservation of human life.
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