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February 8, 2023

WPD’s top mental health advocate retires after 25 years

WATSONVILLE—Watsonville Police bade farewell to Master Officer Angel Calderon last week, capping his two-and-a-half decades of service.

At an informal upbeat going-away ceremony, scores of officers, staff and retirees offered plenty of words of praise and thanks—laced with a few quips about ‘where did that free lunch you offered go?’

“From the very beginning, he treated me with such respect,” said officer Charles Bailey. “He always treated this like a big family.”

Calderon worked his way up the ranks, starting as a Watsonville Police Cadet. He then put five years in at Scotts Valley Police department before moving over to Watsonville Police.

On top of a long list of duties, including Detective, School Resource Officer and Corporal, Calderon is credited with founding C.A.R.E., the department’s Crisis Assessment Response and Engagement team. He and social worker Reina Valencia ushered in a new approach to mental health cases that not only opened doors to those in need of the mental health services around the county for WPD, but also freed up patrol officers to better focus on other pressing calls. 

Their grassroots approach involved teaming up with other officers and going out into the trenches, on the streets and under the bridges, to directly address what a person, in whatever form of mental crisis, needed and where to direct them other than the back of a patrol car or jail.

“He is one of the most generous, compassionate people I have ever met,” said Capt. Jorge Zamora, who worked alongside Calderon for about 20 years.

Added Chief of Police David Honda: “We are very proud of you and we are very impressed that you have sacrificed a lot for your community. I know your work with the C.A.R.E. team touched a lot of lives in the mental health world.” 

Honda went on to tell the gathering that Calderon had, over the years, received more than 40 letters of appreciation and accomplishments.

Calderon was presented with a 9mm service handgun, a bottle of Scotch and a bottle of wine. And then a joke gift: a leather wallet in recognition of a running joke about Calderon’s reputation of not being able to find his wallet when it came time for paying for lunch.

The move triggered a wave of laughter and these words from Calderon: “To my wife, thanks for being there; I know we missed a lot of Christmases. And thanks to all of you.”

Tarmo Hannula
Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.


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