On October 10th 1769, Fray Crespi and Miguel Costanso, a member of Portola's expedition, described crossing a river that the soldiers named "Rio del Pajaro" because they had seen a large grass stuffed bird. The town became known as Pajaro.

Judge John Watson

In 1851, Judge John H. Watson arrived in the Pajaro Valley because he claimed to own some of Sebastian Rodriguez' property. Judge H. Watson laid out a township near the Pajaro River. A Santa Cruz County under-sheriff referred to the area where Watson lived as Watson-ville and the name remained.

Watson ultimately lost his claim against the Rodriguez family but he stayed in the area. Sometime in 1862, Watson left Watsonville and moved to Nevada. Watson never returned to Watsonville.

Original Town Marshalls

The history of Watsonville Police Department dates back to 1868. Watsonville was incorporated in 1868 and several men served as "Town Marshals." The Marshals were responsible for dealing with various problems such as gambling, prostitution, public drunkenness, bar fights, thefts and murders. "Night watchmen" (patrol officers) assisted the Town Marshals in carrying out various duties throughout the night. During this time prisoners were tied to a tree or post because there were no jails in Watsonville. Some prisoners were kept in a hotel room under guard.

First Jail

In 1856, the citizens of Watsonville raised enough money to build a jail. The first Watsonville jail was built in 1869 but was burned down by unknown persons in 1877. In 1878, Watsonville started a chain gang and the prisoners worked out their sentences on the chain gang. On Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1913, a new jail was opened on Rodriguez St. In 1937, the city decided to build a larger Police Department and jail at 231 Union St. In 1982, the Police Department moved to 215 Union St where it is currently located.

John Wesley Alford

Watsonville Night watchman John Wesley Alford worked diligently in arresting the prostitutes of Watsonville. On February 6th 1897, Night watchman Alford was shot and killed near Ginnochio's saloon on S Main Street during his night patrol. Large rewards were posted for the capture of the murderer but he or she was never identified. Alford was 43 years old and was survived by his wife and eight children.

First Chief of Police

In 1903, Watsonville was granted a charter and the trustees elected the Chief of Police. The first Chief of Police was F.A. Rassette elected and confirmed on May 11, 1903.

Red Alert Light

By 1906, a red light was installed at the intersection of Main and Beach Street. The light would alert police officers that they needed to respond to the police station for an incident.

Officer Whalen Murder

On the night of October 25, 1920 at about 11:40 p.m., Officer John T. Whalen was shot to death in a city lot near the jail. According to witnesses, Officer Whalen arrested Fred Pena for disturbing the peace in front of 259 Main Street. Officer Whalen was last seen escorting Fred Pena to the jail. Shortly thereafter witnesses reported hearing several gunshots.

Shortly before midnight, Officer Whalen's body was located by a Southern Pacific officer who happened to be riding his bicycle in the area. Officer Whalen started his career as a Watsonville Police Officer in 1907. On October 26, 1920, Fred Pena was arrested for the murder of Officer John Whalen.

Town Marshalls

  • 1868-1873: J. D. Byrd
  • 1873-1877: W.S. Neal
  • 1877-1879: H.J. Knevels
  • 1879-1887: W.S. Neal

  • 1887-1890: C.W. Bridgewater
  • 1890-1892: Jerome Downing
  • 1892-1902: C.W. Bridgewater
  • 1902-1903: Howard Trafton

Watsonville Police Chiefs

  • 1903-1907: F.A. Rassette
  • 1907-1911: Thomas J. Albright
  • 1911-1925: Sylvester Whitsett
  • 1925-1934: Robert L. Hasting
  • 1934-1947: James "Matt" Graves
  • 1947-1951: Frank Osmer
  • 1951-1954: Everett Dicks
  • 1954-1962: Frank Osmer

  • January 1962 - May 1962: Carl Hartmeyer
  • 1962-1975 James Cunningham
  • 1976-1981: Al Williams
  • 1982-1988: Ray Belgard
  • 1989-2009: Terry Medina
  • 2010-2015: Manny Solano
  • 2016-2021: David Honda

The Watsonville Police Department Uniform Patch

The patch was adopted in 1976. The top section which shows a bird over a verdant valley commemorates Portola's expedition. The soldiers came across a river and found a grass stuffed bird. The soldiers named the river "Rio del Pajaro." The lower right section, depicting a grove of sempervirens, represents the first time the Europeans saw the coastal redwoods.

The lower left section of the patch depicts the short lived Bear Flag Republic during which Watsonville was a small farming community just prior to statehood in 1850. The year at the bottom of the patch 1852, is the year the town became known as Watsonville. It is also the year of the first town election.
Watsonville Police Department Badge


  • Atkinson, F.W. (1935) 100 Years in the Pajaro Valley 1769-1868. Register and Pajaronian Press
  • Lewis, Betty (1976) Watsonville Memories that Linger. Valley Publishers
  • Lewis, Betty (1980) Watsonville Memories that Linger Volume 2. Valley Publishers
  • Officer Monica Gonzalez
  • Pajaro Valley Historical Association
  • Watsonville Chamber of Commerce (1952) Watsonville the First Hundred Years
  • Watsonville Public Library