WATSONVILLE—The Watsonville City Council on Tuesday heard the results of a roughly year-long endeavor sparked by the calls for police reform and social equity stemming from last year’s slaying of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
The Ad-Hoc Committee on Policing and Social Equity (ACH), a coalition of 12 Watsonville residents, three city council members and three police officers, relayed its recommendations that it hopes the City Council will implement in the near future. The ultimate goal of the recommendations: improve the Watsonville Police Department, strengthen the agency’s relationship with the community it serves and address the social issues that experts say create crime.
Created by then-Mayor Rebecca Garcia and now retired police chief David Honda, the committee set out to examine the relationship between its police department and residents, championing the effort as a community-wide endeavor that would give everyone in Santa Cruz County’s southernmost city a chance to share their experiences with WPD.
Over the course of more than 30 meetings and community workshops, the committee heard from everyday citizens, nonprofit leaders and community activists, among others. They also had difficult conversations with each other and came to a compromise, several committee members who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting said.
“I think it was a bold idea to even have this conversation, to even engage the community about something that has just torn our nation apart and caused people to take sides,” said committee member Eric Sturm. “That idea that we’re going to put 15 or 20 people in a room, virtually, … to have that conversation and have those really, really tough conversations about what is a priority, which leads to other questions, which leads to other questions, which leads to personal values and examination of those values and being honest. We did that.”
The committee made nine recommendations. Five of them were identified as “immediate” changes, two were considered “long-term” plans and the final two were guides to “ongoing work”:
- Mental Health and Police Involvement: Commit to working with Santa Cruz County Mental Health and other partners to develop a multi-jurisdictional mental health services plan to enhance the coordination and quality of care and response.
- Police Oversight and Transparency: (1) Develop a formal process for police oversight by working with experts in oversight models to structure the best process for the City and (2) develop ongoing community oversight of the recommendations.
- Develop and Increase Programs for Youth and Families: Develop programs and services that keep youth away from trouble. In order to achieve this goal, it is recommended that the City consider increasing its investments in youth and family-centered programs.
- Ensure Budgets Align with Community Needs: Watsonville should conduct a professional assessment of the current WPD budget and operations to determine if the current level of funding and range of services is sufficient to meet community needs and to determine if funding or services allocated for police could be restructured either within the WPD itself or to other programs in the City budget.
- Training and Hiring of Police Officers: Continue to augment the amount of training received by officers beyond the state-mandated training. The Committee is particularly interested in ensuring that officers receive discretionary training that supports officers’ ability to respond to community needs. The following subjects include a list of training topics that the AHC is interested in including during the discretionary training dates:
- Managing the needs of those who are mentally ill
- De-escalation training as well as training on how to manage high stress, split-second decisions.
- Implicit bias
- Trauma-informed care
- Stress management and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
- Annual professional development/training for all WPD staff on diversity, including but not limited to: interacting with the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, non-English speakers and indigenous population that live in Watsonville. This training should be available for all PD staff, not just officers.
- Annual ethics and code of conduct training and testing
- Civil rights training
- Expert consultant review of intake training as well as ongoing training practices.
- Traffic Stops and Traffic Safety: (A) WPD engages in a data-driven process that includes experts, other police departments and the community to determine if community service officers could be utilized more broadly at WPD. (B) Using expert support, evaluate social equity in the self-initiated traffic stops by WPD. (C) Reduce the high number of traffic collisions and improve pedestrian safety.
- Develop Partnership and Collaboration Opportunities: Increase partnership opportunities among city departments, nonprofits and community leaders as a form of community engagement and prevention.
- Community Engagement: continue to engage the community past the acceptance of these recommendations in order to harness the wisdom and voice of the community.
- Social Equity: City and WPD continue to commit to this process of learning and healing as a community.
Although the City did not commit to implementing any of these recommendations, many on the council said they will make sure the work begins in the near future. The first move: hiring a new police chief. Watsonville City Manager Matt Huffaker said that should happen before the end of the year.
To view the full report, visit cityofwatsonville.org.