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Interview with Sgt. Juan Trujillo, and Watsonville Native

by Olga Rosales Salinas

My sisters and I have conducted several interviews with friends who grew up in Watsonville. We’ve interviewed, Alejo Padilla, who teaches in the Tahoe area, and Lucia Rocha, who teaches all across America. We’re interviewed Jaime Sánchez, a muralist whose art covers some of the largest buildings in the heart of Watsonville, CA. While each interview has been unique in its own right, the interview below with Juan Trujillo covers current policies of the Watsonville Police Department and their efforts to serve and protect the residents of town.

Like Padilla, and Rocha, Trujillo also lived in the same neighborhood as us. We rode the same bus to Amesti Elementary, Rolling Hills Middle School, and eventually Aptos High. During this interview you’ll read that after high school, Trujillo went to boot camp and enlisted in the US Marines. After the Corps, he went to Baltimore and finally to Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii, where he stayed for three years. He returned to Watsonville and was hired by WPD, where he has worked ever since.

Of course, I am happy for my friend and all of the accomplishments that we discuss below—but more specifically, after learning about the programs that the WPD has implemented, I am hopeful. As always, reading, commenting, liking, and sharing are much appreciated!


Sgt. Juan Trujillo, a Watsonville Native, works as the Sergeant of the Watsonville Police Department (WPD) Special Investigations Unit. Prior to this role as a, Sgt. Trujillo had the opportunity to work on several special assignments as Field Training Officer, Gang Officer, and Narcotics Officer.

Sgt. Trujillo attended Aptos High School, where he excelled academically and in sports. After high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines, where he served for four years. After being discharged, he moved back to Watsonville and attended Cabrillo College. He was then hired by the Santa Cruz County Sheriff as a court security Officer and eventually became a police officer in the WPD. An immigrant himself, Trujillo is dedicated to making his community a safer place and building trust with community members—regardless of their immigration status.


We were neighbors in the Mesa Verde neighborhood in Watsonville, CA. How do you remember it?

I was caught off guard the first week in the neighborhood when I was confronted about my gang affiliation while hanging out at the neighborhood park. This was foreign to me as I was not familiar with the gang culture. All I knew was that I was scared. However, my neighbor who eventually became a great friend, took me under his wing and schooled me up a bit. He told me I should participate in organized sports and avoid being around gang members. With his help, I felt safer and learned how to stay away from gang influence. Meeting people that shared the same passion as I did for sports is a unique memory I cherish. Local organized sports offered me a safe environment and the opportunity to build lifelong friendships.

Tell us about your parents. What do you know about their experience?

I was born in a small town in Michoacán Mexico and immigrated to the US when I was 5 years old. My father worked in agriculture for several years forcing the family to migrate back and forth between Yuma Arizona and Watsonville depending on the agricultural season.

My parents, like so many from their generation, sacrificed a lot by leaving their hometown in search of the American dream. Close friendships, family, personal possession, culture, and customs were all left behind in Mexico. Fortunately, my parents were eventually able to travel back on a regular basis to try to catch up with what was left behind.

We attended all of the same schools, including Aptos. Class of 1998, baby!! Can you tell us what Aptos was like for you?

I was a little intimidated at first when I saw all the divided groups on campus, but as time went on, I got to meet the students individually during classes, specifically in ASB Link Crew leadership class. This class was geared toward getting students outside their comfort zone and forced them to learn about each other. I met people from every ethnicity group, which actually helped me gain confidence and find people with shared interests. Sports also gave me the opportunity to connect with people I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I remember that you played football, what was that like? Did any of the coaches have a significant impact in your life?

Previous Athletic Director and Football Coach Mark Dorfman was and continues to be a great inspiration in my life. I admire the way he treats everyone as an individual and expresses a genuine interest in their well-being. Coach Dorfman was always willing to help. His pre-game speeches and leadership values built a foundation for so many of us.

When did you know you wanted to be a cop? When did you know you wanted to be a cop in Watsonville?

While I was working for the Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office as a security officer at the courthouse, I had the opportunity to interact with many police officers going to court hearings. I was able to learn about the role of Police Officers in their communities. What really drew my attention was the juvenile justice system. I had the opportunity to meet at- risk youth going to court hearings and learn about their challenges and struggles. I also got to learn about the interventions and services our county provides for them. It saddened me to hear about the negative impact gangs and drugs have in our local youth. I heard stories about juveniles being raised in dysfunctional environments where they were left with no choice but to join gangs. This really made me think about my experiences growing up. It was then that I decided I wanted to be part of the solution, specifically in my hometown of Watsonville.

Our city and Watsonville Police Department has publicly made it clear that we will not participate in any immigration sweeps. The role of our police department is to provide services and protection to all community members regardless of their immigration status.  

A significant memory I have as a child is from INS sweep (la migra) coming through town and harassing our community. Does that still happen in Watsonville?

The City of Watsonville has taken progressive steps to ensure the safety of all community members regardless of their immigration status. In fact, Watsonville was one of few cities in the state of California to declare itself a sanctuary city early on—a city whose municipal laws tend to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation or prosecution, despite federal immigration law. The entire state of California eventually became a sanctuary state. We understand that even with these progressive steps, people are still hesitant and fearful of law enforcement so we are trying to break down those barriers with programs such as Agua con la Chota, which focuses on proactively engaging with the farm working community, many of whom are undocumented. At the end of the day, the main goal of the program is to establish trust so that everyone feels comfortable reporting crimes and coming to the police department for help.

*WPD and Farm Workers in Watsonville, Agua Con La Chota event.

Our city and Watsonville Police Department has publicly made it clear that we will not participate in any immigration sweeps. The role of our police department is to provide services and protection to all community members regardless of their immigration status.

I think it’s amazing that you’re serving the community that raised you. Does this make your job easier or harder?

It makes my job easier because I can directly relate to our community. As an adult, I have a personal interest in the safety of Watsonville since I am living and raising my family here. But it has been difficult to see old friends struggle with drug addiction, gangs, and mental health issues. Being a police officer exposes you to dangerous, dark, violent, unimaginable circumstances that the average person may not be aware of. This can take a toll on a person’s well-being, but I maintain balance by focusing on my purpose in life: to help make Watsonville a safer place for all.

What are some of the programs being offered by the WPD to help the migrant community that makes up most of the population in Watsonville?

Agua Con La Chota is a program we offer to directly help our community understand our commitment to help everyone—regardless of their immigration status. The program offers opportunities for the migrant community to socialize one-on-one with WPD Officers. By sharing backgrounds and common interests, barriers are removed and trust is strengthened—kind of like the ASB Link Crew Leadership class I participated at Aptos High School.

WPD Collaborates with the juvenile intervention competitive soccer program for at risk youth called Aztecas, which is led by an Aptos High School alumna Gina Castaneda, a juvenile probation officer in Watsonville. Gina uses soccer for social change in our community struggling with gang violence and poverty. Soccer saved her life, and now she is giving back what was given to her. Coach Mark Dorfman also played an enormous role in her success.

The Post Incident Team (PIT) is a volunteer-led program that focuses on offering resources to neighborhoods impacted by violent crimes. Their role is to walk the neighborhoods after a critical incident and knock-on doors to offer services to impacted residents.

WPD collaborates with the Santa Cruz County Community Action board, whose mission is to partner with the community to eliminate poverty and create social change through advocacy and essential services. They also offer immigration services.

WPD Cadet (Explorer) program provides an opportunity to any local youth interested in learning about law enforcement. Unfortunately, the program is temporarily suspended due to the pandemic, but will hopefully be up and running again soon.

What can our readers learn about the WPD that they might not already know?

We’re a police department that is community centered. It’s not all about enforcement. We make a huge effort to strengthen our relationship with community members through different programs and community events. We want our community to trust us so that we can make Watsonville a safer place for everyone. A lot of our police officers have strong local ties.

If you were to address first-generation or immigrant students from the Central Coast, what would you say?

I would tell them to not give up on their goals and dreams. I would tell them to seek mentors with similar backgrounds, and I would encourage them to be relentless in the pursuit of their happiness. Once you identify your purpose in life, everything falls into place.

If you could address a potential RSS donor, what would you say?

Being a young immigrant can be difficult. Building confidence and acclimating to negative influences such as gang and drug cultures in a foreign country are just some of the challenges we face as immigrants. I attribute my success to people who were willing to help me out, like Huntly Gordon, a high school classmate’s father. Huntly played a big role in my hiring process at WPD. If it weren’t for his referral, I would probably not be where I am today. We immigrants need all the support we can get. Your contribution as an RSS donor will help somebody gain that confidence, they need to be successful in life.



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