It’s August and that means your teacher and town mayor is now back in class. I can’t wait to meet my new sixth graders for the 2022-2023 school year.
As we all get back to the rhythm of things, let’s work to keep our community safe. You can expect to see more traffic in our neighborhoods as teachers, staff, parents and students travel to and from school. The Watsonville Police Department will deploy additional officers to specifically patrol school zones in the city. Be careful, respect the highway code and contribute to the safety of our students.
I am thrilled to celebrate and recognize the young people who have spent their summer participating in some of the programs offered by the city. These municipal programs have helped keep students busy and engaged during their summer vacation. For example, the Summer in the City program gave nearly 30 high school students the opportunity to learn career-readiness skills, gain an inside view of local government, and learn how to get involved in make a difference in our community. After their five-week internship, students earned 10 elective credits, a $1,000 stipend, and trades certificates.
The Watsonville Fire Department has hosted two consecutive sessions of the Fire Youth Academy. A total of 28 local high school students were introduced to the fire service and graduated from the program. The academy provides young people with learning opportunities that challenge and inspire them while being mentored and trained by Watsonville firefighters.
A new program for teens to understand the different roles and responsibilities of police and professional staff was rolled out this summer. During the Watsonville Police Department Youth Academy, 17 young people participated in a variety of activities to learn the value of teamwork and positive self-esteem, and along the way established positive relationships with other participants.
As we look forward to the school year, we will continue to grow and provide valuable services to our youth and the community at large. We continued our investment in expanding the police department’s ability to mobilize and provide additional resources to Watsonville residents.
Much of the work planned for the coming year stems directly from several recommendations made by the Ad Hoc Committee on Policing and Social Equity. This committee was launched in 2020 to help shape the future of community policing and community programs in Watsonville. From the beginning of their process, committee members have been committed to including a wide range of community voices to inform and help shape their final recommendations.
The committee’s main recommendation in its 35-page final report was that the police service expand and provide additional mental health services to our community (Recommendation 1: Mental Health and Police Involvement).
With the help of several community partners, a Multidisciplinary Trauma Informed Team (MDT) was formed within the police department. This team now provides support and care to community members affected by trauma. The services are led by program coordinator Meredith Flores, who was hired by the police department last month. Meredith is from Watsonville and has experience in critical incident response. She coordinates referrals, conducts assessments and triages for the necessary initial response, and acts as a community liaison after any incident in our community.
The development of partnerships and collaboration opportunities was also high on the list of the ad hoc committee (recommendation 7: Develop partnership and collaboration opportunities). The committee recognized early on the importance of increasing community engagement and police service prevention efforts.
Since March, Patricia Mata has focused on developing and increasing programs for youth and families while strengthening partnerships with city departments, nonprofit organizations and community leaders. Mata is no stranger when it comes to working with young people. She has many years of experience providing comprehensive services such as case management, counseling and crisis intervention to youth and families in the Pajaro Valley.
During his short time with the police department, Mata reestablished programs that connect our police department with community members, such as the popular Agua con la Chota: a collaboration between the Watsonville Police Department (WPD), local berry growers and several communities. based organizations to engage field workers on topics that matter to them. Or the Post-Incident Team (PIT): a team made up of police officers and neighborhood leaders who come together shortly after a serious incident has occurred. The team is strategically sent to neighborhoods to help calm fears and spread information about counseling and other social services.
Mata works to support our local youth through the Police Cadet Program. This program offers young people the opportunity to explore the field of law enforcement as a possible career choice. Cadets are divided into various divisions to experience the many aspects of law enforcement. Mata also ensures that the WPD continuously provides presentations and participates in local events hosted by local community organizations, the school district, and local businesses. I welcome Meredith and Patricia to our municipal team and we welcome their contributions to improving our community. I look forward to seeing the police department continue to work hand in hand with the community.
Even though schools are back in session, the summer fun isn’t over yet. I want to make sure you are all aware of an exciting event that I am looking forward to in the coming weeks.
I recommend visiting Watsonville Municipal Airport for the annual Fire in the Sky Airport Open House event. On September 3, during Labor Day weekend, the airport will open with aircraft displays, live music and close the evening with a fireworks display. Parking is $20 and admission is free. It’s a big family event. I highly recommend it.
I would like to end this month’s post by sharing with our community a special new place that we have been working to create. The city council has commissioned a COVID-19 memorial in an effort to remember and honor the lives of those who have lost their lives to the COVID-19 pandemic. The commemorative artwork will provide Watsonville residents, and many other visitors, with a place to reflect on this important time in our country’s history. Kathleen Crocetti and Monica Galvan were the two artists selected to complete this beautiful commemorative space. I would like to cordially invite the community of Watsonville to attend our ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4:00 p.m. on September 14th. So, until then…
See you in town, Watsonville.
Ari Parker is the mayor of Watsonville.