Police Chief candidate’s former department subject of external investigation

University of Washington Police subject of external investigation during John Vinson’s tenure as chief.


Photos courtesy of The Daily

NIU Chief of Police candidate John Vinson was the Chief of Police at the University of Washington during a time that saw the department the subject of an external investigation. The department is also facing a civil suit alleging a culture of racism during and after Vinson’s departure in 2019. (Cliff DesPeaux & Jordan Pickett | The Daily)

DeKALB— Prior to his time at Indiana University, NIU Chief of Police candidate John Vinson served 10 years at the University of Washington in Seattle. Vinson served at Washington during a time that saw the department not just receive triple accreditation from law enforcement agencies, but a time with multiple incidents within the rank and file.

Vinson first served as the University of Washington’s Chief of Police from 2009 to April 2019, before resigning to assume the role of assistant vice president for campus and community safety.

During his tenure, Vinson oversaw a department that was the subject of an external review that lays out a lack of trust and respect between the University of Washington Police Department executive leaders and those surveyed for the review. 

Only 8% of respondents felt a “climate of trust within the department,” and 19% felt executive leadership treated employees with respect, according to the review.

Vinson was also accused in the report of shutting out employees who disagreed or openly spoke out against him, creating a fear of retaliation among many in the department.

“I don’t think any of (the examples) are reflected accurately,” Vinson said in an interview with the Northern Star Wednesday. “We couldn’t go around and tell everybody, ‘well, somebody got demoted because of this reason, or someone got reassigned for this reason.’”

Personally, Vinson also received calls from members of his department to have the Board of Regents and the President of the University of Washington place Vinson on administrative leave due to fostering “an atmosphere of hostility, retaliation and unethical behavior,” according to the letter submitted to the University of Washington Board of Regents

In a letter written in response to the letter of concern, Vinson said it does not “represent the entire membership.” Vinson also noted that one sergeant had not been employed with the department since 2018.

Vinson came to Seattle on the heels of a class-action civil rights lawsuit against the department, so a shift in culture was needed, but the culture ran above the rank and file, Vinson said.

“I was brought in to sort of fix some of those issues,” Vinson said. “The problem that I experienced was many of the individuals that were sued previously were in top-level positions in the organization. They were my top commanders.” 

After Vinson’s departure, five Black officers filed a lawsuit against the University of Washington Police Department alleging a culture of racism within the department, according to a New York Times article

The lawsuit details employees’ use of the n-word, racial slurs and stereotypes, according to a court complaint filed in Washington state court

Vinson acknowledged and notified the University of Washington of the problems of racism after departing from the department in 2019, according to the complaint. 

“I knew about some of them,” Vinson said. “We had addressed some of that. Absolutely. We were successful in some areas in terms of being able to encourage some of our unwilling team members to move on.”

Vinson is scheduled to speak with the NIU community at 1 p.m. Thursday in Altgeld Room 315. The forum can also be streamed via Zoom.