In a city announcement, Watson says the decision comes with a “feeling of bittersweet peace” as he move onto a new chapter in life after 24 years in law enforcement, with more than 16 of those in Eureka, which he described as a great privilege.
“While my fire has not diminished, it is time for me to take a restful step back and reflect with pride on a career well spent, even as I look forward with enthusiasm to the next adventure,” he says. “I plan first to take some time to be more present with my amazing family, travel, teach, and finish my graduate degree.”
Watson was selected to take the EPD helm in September of 2017 after a nationwide search, replacing former Chief Andrew Mills, who departed to take over the Santa Cruz Police Department. The Fortuna native and U.S. Army veteran, who spent time working in the ministry, and as a school teacher, has served in law enforcement since getting his start with the Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office in 1998.
He came on board as chief with an emphasis on better retention of the current force, more training, expanded community partnerships and stronger relationships with city staff.
City Manager Miles Slattery says details on recruiting a new chief will be announced “in the days ahead” and he sees the process as one that “will help us bring additional resources and opportunity to the many men and women who tirelessly serve our community as part of the EPD every single day.”
“Chief Watson has led the city of Eureka’s Police force through several years of important transition and we are thankful for his service,” he says in the release.
Meanwhile, the department has been roiled by controversy in recent months after the Sacramento Bee published an explosive report detailing vulgar, misogynistic and dehumanizing text messages sent between a group of officers that someone leaked to the paper.
In the immediate aftermath of the article, Watson placed two of the officers responsible for sending most of the texts on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. The city also entered into a contract with the Bay Area law firm Sacks, Ricketts and Case LLP to conduct an independent investigation, the results of which are pending. (Read previous coverage here.)
And, like other law enforcement agencies across the state and the nation, EPD has struggle to recruit and retain officers, leaving those in the department working an emergency schedule built on 12.5-hour shifts and mandatory overtime, as the department's once touted Problem Oriented Policing and Community Safety Engagement teams operate with skeletal staffing.
In his statement, Watson praised the men and women of the force, noting the sacrifices they and their families make each day and said he believes a ”strong foundation for the department’s future has been built to “blossom into our region’s premier, community-oriented law enforcement agency,”
In closing, when I became chief, I echoed Coach Lou Holtz and asked the following of EPD: Do what’s right, do the best you can, and treat others the way you’d like to be treated. I have striven to lead by example, and I move forward with the sureness I lived and led by these principles,” Watson say. “Eureka, it has been a blessing and an honor to be your Chief of Police. Thank you for the opportunity.”
Read the full release below:
EUREKA, CA — Oct. 27, 2021 – Today, Police Chief Steve Watson notified City Manager Slattery that he would be retiring from Eureka Police Department at the end of November 2021.
Chief Watson has served the local community as part of the EPD since 2005 and was appointed Chief of Police in 2017. In his over four years as Eureka’s Chief of Police, Chief Watson has emphasized relationship-based policing, community engagement, and building deeper partnerships, understanding, and trust. One of his highest priorities has been successfully strengthening police-community relations.
Chief Watson has been a progressive, innovative, and creative problem-solver. Advocating tirelessly on their behalf, Chief Watson has worked hard to take care of the men and women of EPD and prioritize employee wellness, improved working conditions, new technologies, better equipment and training, wholistic officer safety, retention, and recruitment. In the interest of earning and safeguarding the public’s trust, he also increased transparency and accountability within the police department and its interactions with the community.
Chief Watson’s integrity, steadfast leadership, and commitment to the safety of our community were notable throughout the many unprecedented crises our community and country have faced during the past two years.
Chief Watson provided the following statement to the Manager and City Council:
I’ve had the honor of being a full-time law enforcement officer for over 24 years, starting my career with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office in 1997. I also proudly served in the U.S. Army for three years, so I’ve been serving my country and my community nonstop for over 27 years.
It is thus with a feeling of bittersweet peace that I announce my upcoming retirement. While my fire has not diminished, it is time for me to take a restful step back and reflect with pride on a career well spent, even as I look forward with enthusiasm to the next adventure. I plan first to take some time to be more present with my amazing family, travel, teach, and finish my graduate degree.
My over 16 ½ years serving the Eureka community has been a great privilege and the highlight of a long career in public service. I genuinely love this community and could not be prouder of the dedicated men and women of the Eureka Police Department. It has been an honor to lead and work beside them. Their daily service, sacrifices, resiliency, and accomplishments are inspirational, and they deserve our full support, respect, and appreciation. A strong foundation for the department’s future has been built, and I look forward to watching EPD continue to blossom into our region’s premier, community-oriented law enforcement agency. Policing is a shared community responsibility that is all about relationships at its heart. I want to take a moment to thank the many people who have shown the Eureka Police Department, my family, and me so much support and encouragement over the years. I cherish your friendship and will never forget you. In the demanding profession of law enforcement, we must recognize “our families serve too.” I especially want to thank my wife and children for “loaning” their loved one to public service for so many years. Now it’s their turn.
In closing, when I became Chief, I echoed Coach Lou Holtz and asked the following of EPD: Do what’s right, do the best you can, and treat others the way you’d like to be treated. I have striven to lead by example, and I move forward with the sureness I lived and led by these principles. Eureka, it has been a blessing and an honor to be your Chief of Police. Thank you for the opportunity.
All the best, Chief Steve Watson
“Chief Watson has led the City of Eureka’s Police force through several years of important transition and we are thankful for his service,” City Manager Miles Slattery said. “We will announce details of the recruitment for a new Chief in the days ahead and expect that this search will help us bring additional resources and opportunity to the many men and women who tirelessly serve our community as part of the EPD every single day.”