VALLEJO — In a public forum Thursday, the city’s police chief and city manager confirmed the existence of an investigation into unspecified “communication” involving at least one police officer related to an image of a 113-year-old police badge with a left-facing swastika carved into the top.

The left-facing swastika, also known as a sauwastika, is a Buddhist symbol developed in the 19th century that predates the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, which took on a similar-looking rightwards-facing swastika as its symbol. Speaking at a town hall meeting Thursday, Vallejo police Chief Shawny Williams and City Manager Greg Nyhoff, did not describe the investigation in detail but say they looped in the state Department of Justice, which is essentially auditing the city’s police force.

“I can assure the public when something like that surfaces we will do a thorough investigation and ensure that does not surface again within our police department,” Williams said, adding that the swastika symbol is “despicable and disgusting.”

The chief’s remarks come just weeks after city officials launched a probe into allegations that multiple Vallejo officers who’ve shot and killed people on the job later bent the tips of their badges to celebrate the fatal shootings. At a later part of the town hall, Nyhoff said it “appears true” that officers were bending badge tips to celebrate kills and pledged that there would be discipline. That investigation remains ongoing.

But Nyhoff also confirmed that he had heard about badge-bending at least one year ago, and that then-Chief Andrew Bidou assured him it had been “taken care of and handled.” He said looking back, he wishes he’d explored the matter further.

“Today we’re finding there wasn’t anything done,” Nyhoff said. “It was indicated (badge bending) was years past…unfortunately I think we’re investigating it happening in the much more near present.”

Neither Nyhoff nor Williams acknowledged the left-facing swastika’s history as a symbol in Buddhism and other religions. The badge also contains a carving of a fleur-de-lis, a symbol that came to rise as a symbol of the French monarchy during the middle ages.

While Williams did not detail the investigation, a former Vallejo police chief, Robert Nichelini, said in an email to this news organization that he’d seen the image before. His son, Vallejo police Lt. Michael Nichelini — the police union president — sent him a picture of the badge that he’d found online.

“He and I are both very interested in the history of the department,” Robert Nichelini said. “The ‘swastika’ is left-facing and represents the Native American symbol for auspiciousness and good luck. It was likely a popular symbol in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It has nothing to do with Nazism.”

Nichelini said that no one at the department was actually in possession of the badge and noted that, “it is likely quite valuable.” He said he had no knowledge of the city’s investigation into the matter.

In another Vallejo police controversy, Michael Nichelini was placed on administrative leave earlier this year while the city investigates the destruction of a windshield that a Vallejo detective fired through when he shot and killed Sean Monterrosa last June.

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