[Reporters Johanna Miller and Tarmo Hannula contributed to this report. — Editor]
WATSONVILLE—Watsonville Chief of Police David Honda will retire in July after serving five years as the city’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, he announced Thursday morning.
In a statement through the department’s social media, Honda said his time with Watsonville Police Department was a “privilege and an honor.”
“Although this is the end of an amazing chapter of my life, I look forward to what’s next,” the statement read.
After Honda’s final day on July 1 Assistant Chief Tom Sims will serve as Interim Police Chief while the city searches for his replacement. City Manager Matt Huffaker said he expects Sims will stay in that role for “several months.” The city in the coming weeks will contract an outside firm to develop a hiring process, Huffaker said.
The city does not have a set date of when it expects to hire a new chief.
Huffaker said Honda’s retirement did not come as a surprise. The two had conversations about the decision recently.
“I think [Honda] reached the point of his life where he wanted to do something different, and I can understand and respect that,” Huffaker said. “I would love to have Chief as long as we can, but the good news is that we’re very fortunate that during Dave’s time as Chief he’s built up a very strong command staff.”
Honda has worked in law enforcement for more than 30 years, serving a quarter century with the San Jose Police Department before taking the job with Watsonville in 2016.
In his time with WPD, Honda helped city leadership pass Measure Y, the half-cent sales tax benefiting the police, fire and parks departments that supplanted Measure G. He also championed the increased recruitment of women to the force by more than doubling the size of the women’s locker room, and backed several campaigns that sought to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety—a major issue in Watsonville.
Huffaker said Honda’s push to hire more women was one of his first undertakings when he joined the force.
“He saw that the female officers’ locker room was the size of a broom closet…he found that unacceptable,” Huffaker said. “I love that story because it really just shows the man of integrity that Dave is.”
More recently, he helped start the Ad-Hoc Committee on Policing and Social Equity. Spearheaded by Honda, Huffaker, then-Mayor Rebecca Garcia and council member Francisco Estrada, the committee aims to explore WPD’s connection with the community it serves.
Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance (PVPSA) CEO Erica Padilla-Chavez praised Honda for bringing a more “holistic” view to the role of local law enforcement to WPD.
“He understood [police’s] role of enforcement but also their role of ensuring that everyone receives the support they need,” she said. “He’s just brought a human element to the department that I hope remains after his departure.”
Honda worked closely with PVPSA on its Caminos Hacia el Exito program, which works with first-time youth offenders to keep them out of the criminal justice system.
“For us specifically, we have really enjoyed [Honda’s] focus on ensuring every young person has an opportunity to succeed in life,” said Padilla-Chavez, who also praised Honda for bringing a mental health liaison to the department.
“I wish him the best next chapter in life,” she said. “I’ll miss working with him, I’ll miss the candid conversations we had, especially recently during the pandemic. It’s going to be big shoes to fill, for sure.”
WPD Sgt. Mike Ridgway said he has vast respect for Honda.
“He’s simply been a great chief and was he absolutely the right person for WPD,” he said. “Agencies go through bumps now and again and when Honda came on board he brought stability and rational thought: He was the right man. He has good people skills, common sense, an open-door policy and is very approachable.”
Fellow WPD Sgt. Mish Radich said the department was “fortunate” to have Honda as its leader.
“We’ve progressed so much in every area in what felt like a short period of time, and the city is a safer place because of it,” he said. “He’s gonna leave some big shoes to fill.”
Huffaker said the city will look to hire a leader that has similar qualities to Honda.
“Dave has a huge heart for the community and I want to ensure that that legacy continues,” he said.
Overall crime fell to record lows while Honda was in charge, but violent crimes have increased over the past two years. In 2019, the number of assaults jumped to levels not seen since before the passing of Measure G in 2014, according to city-data.com. The city also experienced a rash of shootings over the past six months that claimed four lives.
Honda also leaves at a time in which leaders across the nation have taken a microscope to their police department budgets and the role that their officers play in their communities.
The Pajaro Valley Unified School District cut ties with WPD last year, voting to permanently end its School Resource Officer program at Watsonville, Pajaro Valley and Aptos high schools, and to redirect the $405,265 it previously used annually for that program to socio-emotional counselors.
In addition, calls asking the city to trim WPD’s budget have trickled in over the past year. During last year’s budget hearings about two dozen people called for the City Council to reinvest a chunk of the department’s $21 million budget into the city’s parks and community-serving organizations. The City Council did not budge—voting 6-1 to keep WPD’s budget intact—but it did say that those conversations needed to continue.
Honda made $283,668.18 in total pay and benefits in 2019, according to Transparent California. In retirement, he will make the average of his highest wages earned in a consecutive three-year period, as written into the city’s public safety bargaining unit agreement.
Honda was hired by previous City Manager Charles Montoya to replace Manny Solano, a homegrown Chief of Police who retired in late 2015 after 30 years of service with WPD.
Honda is a native of Santa Clara County. His sons attended and graduated from Monte Vista Christian.