The Watsonville Police Department will help conduct 10 community listening sessions and the city will create a police oversight committee in hopes of increasing community trust and accountability in local law enforcement, Chief of Police David Honda announced during Tuesday afternoon’s Watsonville City Council meeting.
The listening sessions will be organized by Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA), a grassroots collective made up of local faith and community leaders.
The so-called “house meetings” will be open to the public, and are tentatively scheduled to start in mid-August, Honda said. It could take roughly three or four months to complete the 10 meetings and another community forum outside of those gatherings is also in the works, Honda said.
Mayor Rebecca Garcia, meanwhile, will kickstart the creation of the oversight committee by appointing three city council members to an “ad hoc” committee that will oversee that process.
Honda said city staff and members of the community will also be a part of that committee, which will be tasked with gathering feedback from the community, addressing any legal, financial or logistical roadblocks that may arise and, ultimately, creating an oversight committee that fits the specific needs of the Watsonville community.
The ad hoc committee meetings will be open to the public. The group’s recommendation of how the oversight committee should be structured and what powers it will have will require city council approval.
“Although we don’t know exactly how this model will be developed or how it will look like, I believe this model we come up with is going to go way beyond just police oversight,” Honda said. “It can be, potentially, an intersectional committee that can also address the growing racial, systemic and socioeconomic issues that we must confront as a community together.”
Spearheaded by Garcia, the outreach and police reform efforts come as departments across the nation have been placed under the microscope after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in late May.
WPD has, too, faced increased scrutiny over the past month as social unrest around racial and social inequalities has continued to build.
Honda, Garcia said, has been open and willing to implement changes to his department.
“You are really committed to our community and even though you know there’s a lot of wonderful things our police department does, you also recognize that it can even be better,” Garcia said.
Members of the community who want to be a part of the ad hoc committee should contact the City Manager’s office at 831-768-3010.