De-escalation and recruitment mark top priorities for interim Eureka Police Chief Steve Watson.
Few specifics were laid out as Watson returned from a two-week training program geared towards law enforcement leadership.
“It’s going to take a lot of energy and a lot of time,” Watson said. “But I am also energized and excited about the opportunity.”
His old position as captain was taken over on an interim basis by Patrick O’Neill on Monday. Watson said the move will help relieve his workload having the captain position filled as he begins to set the goals for the department and the city.
Watson became interim chief July 21, former chief Andrew Mills’ last day.
As interim police chief, Watson will retain the position until January when, after an interview and hiring process, a permanent person will be named to fulfill the role as top cop, according to city officials.
Regardless, Watson said he will be pushing the department and community forward in any position he is in. But Watson said that doesn’t mean he won’t throw his hat in the ring when the time comes.
“If there’s a chief out there that is better for this position than me, then that’s the person that should get the job,” Watson said.
He said that if he is not selected to be the chief, he will return to being a captain and O’Neill would return to his previous position as a detective sergeant.
“If I were to be given the permanent spot, then one of the first orders of business would be going through the testing and selection process for a permanent captain replacement,” he said.
Watson tentatively plans for the Eureka Police Department to participate in de-escalation training in late September or early October that includes nonlethal weapon and tactics training.
“We’ve got a lot of challenges as a city and a community, and even as a department, but we are heading in the right direction,” Watson said.
Officers will learn the principals and purpose of de-escalation, focusing on how to keep officers safe and how to determine the right time to use deadly force.
“The reality in law enforcement is there will be times when deadly force is simply going to be necessary to save your life and others’ lives,” Watson said.
Another top priority set by Watson is recruitment, which he said is connected to community relations. Watson said the department is just about done with a new recruitment video and while that might seem small, he said it’s a baby step that will lead up to having more recruits with roots to the community as well as better retention.
“I am a firm believer in that public trust is built and maintained one contact at a time,” Watson said.
Watson hopes to push relations with the community forward and in a lot of ways to continue what Mills started, he said. The EPD has typically been a very young police department and has high officer turnover rate, Watson said.
Although goals for community relations and de-escalation make the new priorities, Watson said their primary goal is crime.
“We are going to fight for Eureka,” Watson said.
Watson said he is interested in exploring more creative tactics to prevent or deter crime. When Watson was captain, one of his largest projects was starting a task force focused on undercover operations involving drug deals and prostitution.
Balancing internal and external goals along with the primary focus of fighting crime in Eureka is “easier said than done” according to Watson.
“I very much believe in balance, I really do, and I think we run into trouble when we get unbalanced and you have to take care of both sides of the house,” he said.
Local roots, experience
Watson grew up in Humboldt County and after wearing numerous different hats over the years, about 13 years ago he and his family decided to return to the area.
Before his recent work in Eureka, Watson was part of the SWAT team as a deputy in the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.
In 1997, Watson graduated from Bethany University with a degree in church leadership and went on to obtain his teaching credentials. He became a long-term substitute teacher before making the switch to law enforcement.
“I decided I wanted to do something less stressful and more safe, and I decided to become a law enforcement officer,” Watson joked also adding that he has the utmost respect for teachers.
Sam Armanino can be reached at 707-441-0509