WATSONVILLE, Calif. - UPDATE 7/20/2016 5:13 PM:
Despite tension and protests across the country, Watsonville residents are showing their support for law enforcement.
On Wednesday, the Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance and the Police Activities League hosted a lunch for law enforcement. They weren't just serving up barbecue, but thank you's.
"With all the tragedies that have been going on throughout the country, we thought it would be a nice for our youth to put together some recognition for our officers here in Watsonville," said Adriana Mata, a case manager with PVPSA.
It brought to the table some two dozen local kids and a handful of law enforcement officers, giving them a chance to start building bridges. Mata said it gave the kids an opportunity to see that officers are also community members with families and feelings. Watsonville Lt. Jorge Zamora said these conversations are something he and other cadets learned in training.
"I started here as a police cadet and that was ingrained in me from the very beginning," Zamora explained, "That we have to have relationships with the community if we are going to be effective. So we're talking about an effort that's been ongoing for over 25 years. So we teach that and it's important that we continue to move the forward."
Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither were these relationships, which have taken years to develop. Zamora said humanizing the badge has helped them connect with the community.
"It has to do with being a little bit more vulnerable and talking about our history because there's a difference between an officer being robotic and an officer that's being human, right?" Zamora said. "So I think for us, it really comes down to just practicing law enforcement, not being robotic about it, being human about it."
It appears to be working. Kids approach him easily, seeing a friend and not a foe.
"They're not afraid and they see him as a positive role model," Mata said. "And they can go up to him and they can be themselves and they can share. If they have something go on at school, have a problem going on, he's there to guide them and I think that's very important."
Watsonville youth groups hope something as simple as a barbecue can help strengthen ties between cops and the community. The goal is to show support for the police and interact with officers in a positive way.
KION's Mariana Hicks will have more on this effort to build bridges tonight at 5 and 6 p.m..