Longtime Pleasanton police official Maria Sarasua will make local history for the Pacifica Police Department next month when she takes the reins as its new police chief, becoming the first woman to ever hold the position in the coastal city.
Sarasua, who has worked for the Pleasanton Police Department for nearly 20 years, including the past seven-plus as a lieutenant, rose to the top of Pacifica's police chief search following a nationwide recruitment process. Pacifica City Manager Kevin Woodhouse announced Sarasua's hiring publicly last week.
"This is an amazing opportunity," Sarasua told the Weekly over the weekend. "I am excited to be a part of the city of Pacifica organization and serve alongside the dedicated men and women who embody character, resiliency, and compassion. I am inspired by our deeply supportive residents, business owners, and civic leaders and look forward to learning and enhancing our high levels of service in partnership with our community."
Reflecting on her upcoming departure from Pleasanton PD, Sarasua said, "Pleasanton will always be a very special place to me. I raised my family here and built strong relationships within the police department and the community."
"The unwavering support the police department receives from our community and civic leaders has made the past 20 years of service an incredible honor," she added. "I have a deep and abiding respect for the men and women of the Pleasanton Police Department, and it was my privilege to serve with them."
Sarasua's first day on the job in the oceanside city along Highway 1 in San Mateo County is scheduled for April 24. She succeeds Daniel Steidle, who retired as Pacifica's permanent police chief nine months ago -- although two police captains served as acting chief at different times and retired Colma police chief Kirk Stratton worked for six months as Pacifica PD's interim chief.
"Chief Sarasua is a proven leader and brings a breadth and depth of experience and values to Pacifica that will be an exceptional fit for the organization and the community," Woodhouse said in a statement March 15.
"I am confident that with her extensive knowledge and collaborative leadership style, she will continue to enhance the high level of public safety services, transparency, and trust the Pacifica community expects and deserves," he added.
Pleasanton Police Chief David Swing praised Sarasua for being "a vital member and leader of our organization ... instrumental in mentoring and preparing our next generation of leaders."
"Her appointment as chief is a testament to her commitment to her professional growth and leadership. I am confident her heart for developing others will contribute greatly to her continued success," Swing told the Weekly. "While it is bittersweet to see her move onto a new opportunity, I am excited for her and for the opportunity for others it creates here at PPD."
An Alamo native, Sarasua served as a police explorer and community service officer before being hired as a deputy-sheriff in Contra Costa County in 1995. She transferred to Pleasanton PD as a police officer in 2003, and would rise through the ranks over the ensuing two decades, including her promotion to lieutenant in 2015.
She has been a well-recognized member of Pleasanton PD during her 20-year tenure, both internally and in the community -- known for most of her career by her maiden name, Maria "Mia" Munayer, until her marriage in recent years to Pleasanton police Sgt. Benjamin Sarasua.
Her community impact includes in her personal life founding the nonprofit organization Bridgewatch Angels, which coordinates volunteers on major holidays for suicide prevention efforts at the Golden Gate Bridge on major holidays and raises awareness for mental health.
Pacifica city officials noted Sarasua's reputation as "an innovator with a track record of building significant partnerships and working closely with the communities ... (and) a passion for mentoring and coaching others."
Looking ahead to her first day at Pacifica PD, where she will be the city's 11th police chief overall in its history, Sarasua said, "As part of my transitional plan, I will be meeting with all members of the police department, regional public safety partners, as well as our city and civic leaders, to inform a comprehensive organizational assessment."
"This process will also include listening sessions and outreach with our community to understand the public safety needs unique to Pacifica and how the police department can best serve each neighborhood and business district," she added. "Establishing priorities will require a strategic approach and a plan that aligns our shared values and best outcomes for Pacifica."
Sarasua holds a bachelor's degree in organizational behavior from the University of San Francisco and a master's degree in leadership from St. Mary's College, and is a graduate of the California POST Command College. She is an adjunct professor for the University of San Diego, where she has taught classes in law enforcement and public safety leadership.
Sarasua has two adult children from her prior marriage -- a son who is a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army and a daughter who is in college. When off duty, she said she enjoys exercising outdoors, traveling abroad and volunteering.