Jim Tasa — who served as Pacifica police chief for three years, working to improve the Police Department's response to homelessness as well as mental health emergencies — has stepped down after 32 years with the department.
Tasa first joined the department in 1982 and rose through the ranks to become the city's top cop in 2011.
As the city searches for a successor, two 20-year veteran captains will take turns serving as interim police chief.
Capt. Joe Spanheimer is first stepping in as acting chief through the end of February, followed by Capt. Dan Steidle, who will lead the force through the end of June. The arrangement will allow both veteran officers an opportunity to assume the role temporarily, although the city will have an open application process for the new chief, according to City Manager Lorie Tinfow.
Tasa recalled how his law enforcement career began after he quit a retail management job and paid his own way through Police Academy training in Gilroy. Six years after he was first hired by the Pacifica Police Department, Tasa was assigned to the San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force in 1988.
While he remained an employee of the Pacifica Police Department, Tasa remembered how his undercover work with the task force sometimes had him busting suspected drug dealers on the streets of East Palo Alto.
Many undercover narcotics officers grow their hair long and stop shaving in order to more convincingly pose as drug buyers, but Tasa said he never changed his clean-cut appearance.
“It's all about the ability to communicate with people and convince them they can trust you,” Tasa said of undercover work.
After being promoted to sergeant in 1992, Tasa spent three years investigating crimes against juveniles, where he says his ability to communicate and earn trust again came into play.
As Tasa rose through the ranks, next becoming an administrative sergeant, and later a captain, he became responsible for ensuring department compliance with state-mandated training standards, hiring, recruiting, coordinating background checks, making command decisions, and handling the department's budget.
During Tasa's three years as police chief, he sought to improve the department's response to community issues such as combating homelessness. The department's efforts under Tasa's tenure have been recognized by Pacifica Resource Center Executive Director Anita Rees, who said the police have been important partners with her organization in addressing the needs of Pacifica's homeless residents.
Mayor Mary Ann Nihart has also commended the chief for helping to educate officers throughout San Mateo County about mental health services and improve their ability to respond to mental health crisis situations. Tasa said the need for such training became apparent after the March death of Errol Chang, a Pacifica resident who suffered from schizophrenia and was shot to death by a county SWAT team after allegedly attacking an officer with a knife.
When asked what challenges the Police Department faces as it moves forward, Tasa said balancing the budget and maintaining services in the current economic climate will be a big concern. He added that because the Pacifica community doesn't have a lot of violent crime, much of the department's focus is on responding to citizen complaints about quality-of-life infractions.
As for his own future in retirement, Tasa said he's considering working as a security consultant, project manager or private investigator. He said he's also looking forward to spending more time with his family, getting caught up on household projects and watching more sports.