Police and farmworkers bridge a gap

Watsonville Police Chief David Honda (from right) is happy to link up with Juan Luis Romero of the Community Action Board, Lunina Jimenez, community organizer, and Rodrigo Navarro, Consul for Protection to Mexico, Tuesday during an ongoing program, Agua con la Chota. (Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

WATSONVILLE — Local farmworkers and Watsonville Police have been building a friendly relationship over the past couple years through a unique program known as "Agua con la Chota," or "Water With a Cop."

Over several meetings out in the agriculture fields, police have refreshed field workers with bottled water and snacks and informal introductions in hopes of building friendly relationships.

Sgt. Anthony Figueroa said that police got the program rolling with a local farm on Riverside Road and have met up with the workers in two sessions over the past three months. Then on Tuesday, on their third session, police threw a festive barbecue lunch where uniformed police rolled up their sleeves and grilled a load of meat, bolstered by other Mexican foods, for their new friends.

Capt. Jorge Zamora said the farmworkers were initially hesitant about police visiting them in the fields, "because they were afraid that we were coming to deport them."

“The rancher at Ranch Olitos vouched for us and they got us in here,” he said. “Working with the Youth Violence Prevention Task Force, we made valuable connections with our local farmworkers. It’s amazing how we learned, after talking with so many people, how officer’s lives and professional staff at the department is very similar to the farmworkers and their kids; it’s amazing, the connections that we have made. It started with police bringing them water and pastries out in the field and we shared stories and laughed. And today we’re cooking for them in our uniforms and it’s like they don’t even see the uniform, they see us as people and friends with commonalities, the way we have now learned to see them.”

Figueroa said it is overall an education program that proved to be very successful over the first few years.

"We want to educate them that we are out here to support them and to make sure that we provide them with a safe living environment," he said. "We are not here to work with ICE; we are a sanctuary city. We want people to understand that we are here to support you guys (farmworkers). At the end of the day it’s about bridging that gap that we’ve had for many years.”


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