Visalia Police Chief Colleen Mestas said she will retire next week due to a diagnosis of breast cancer.
She said she notified City Manager Mike Olmos on Thursday that she will retire Jan. 23, and shared the news with upper-level police staff at a meeting.
“It’s a personal and business decision that’s best for me and the department,” she said. “I want to be with my family.”
Mestas, 49, has been the police chief in Visalia since 2009 and was hired as assistant chief a year earlier. Previously, she served as a captain in the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department, where she started as a deputy in 1988.
Mestas said she had her annual mammogram in late December and learned that “calcium deposits had started forming,” indicating the potential for breast cancer. A subsequent biopsy detected cancerous cells, she said.
“It’s in the early stages — I’m optimistic,” she said. “They caught this early. I’m just hoping and praying.”
Mestas said she will have surgery and radiation treatments in Southern California, where she owns a retirement home with her husband, retired Hanford police chief Carlos Mestas.
That will mean several weeks of recovery and treatment, she said.
Mestas said she had already been contemplating retirement at the end of the year.
“I want to spend my retirement years taking care of my grandchildren, but they’re not here yet,” she said with trademark humor. She has a 21-year-old daughter in college.
Choosing to retire now is best for the department because having an acting chief while she’s out on medical leave would cause uncertainty, she said.
Mayor Steve Nelsen said the news of Mestas’ diagnosis came as a shock.
“I hold her in high regard,” he said. “In her time, she’s done an excellent job. She’ll be sorely missed. We have a command staff that Colleen has helped mold, and our department won’t miss a beat.”
The police chief reports to the city manager and is hired by the city manager when there’s a vacancy.
Mestas said she hopes Olmos chooses one of her captains to lead the department of 144 officers.
“I’ve been developing potential replacements since day one,” she said.