It was a chilly Saturday evening, and the 23rd annual Ocoee Founders’ Day Festival was in full swing with hundreds of people in attendance. Saima Plasencia confidently patrolled Bill Breeze Park, unceasingly vigilant of her surroundings as she warmly greeted festival attendees with friendly jokes.
At one point, she sang along as a band played country music onstage. Minutes later, she found herself standing in front of a young girl who had suddenly walked up to her with admiration in her eyes and asked what it’s like to be a cop.
Plasencia, who became the Ocoee Police Department’s new deputy chief in October, answered the middle school-age girl by explaining what she would learn at a police academy and encouraging her to follow her dreams.
“The only difference between you and I is that I’m wearing this uniform,” Plasencia told the young, aspiring cop.
‘I WANT THIS JOB’
Plasencia, 53, lives for the duties of law enforcement and public service. She retired after 30 years of service from the Miami-Dade Police Department, where she ran a district station before becoming Ocoee’s first female deputy chief. Her time in that department has given her the skills she expects she needs to excel in her new role as deputy chief alongside Steve McCosker, who was promoted from lieutenant to deputy chief as well.
“The Miami-Dade Police Department has given me such a great inventory of skills that I don’t really look at anything as being hard or challenging,” Plasencia said. “I just look at it as: ‘Let’s just get the job done.’”
Plasencia is not the type to shy away from male-dominated roles or leadership. But she was not made aware she would be the department’s first female deputy chief until after she was hired.
“As a female officer in law enforcement, you don’t, at least, I don’t think of myself any differently,” Plasencia said. “I just think of myself as a police officer. So, although I’m inherently female, I don’t perform any differently than my male counterparts. So, for me, it’s a great moment in my career to kind of be the first in this department, but in the same token, I’m no different than the people who served before me in this position.”
Her passion for protecting and serving others runs in her blood. Both her father and stepfather worked in the military, requiring her family to move frequently. But it wasn’t until she had grown weary of working as a retail store manager for two years and participated in a police ride-along in Homestead that she finally realized her calling.
“I kind of got tired, you know? Nothing was ever changing except for the merchandise,” Plasencia said. “It was kind of the same business. And then I had the opportunity to ride with a Homestead police officer, and I rode with them for a couple of nights, and I was like, ‘I want this job.’”
‘I LEARNED I COULD DO ANYTHING’
She then joined the police academy — an experience that transformed her from a studious girl who preferred reading books over interacting with other kids to someone who takes charge and feels confident enough to perform any task she’s given.
“When I went through the police academy, I came out a different person,” Plasencia said. “I always knew I could do any job anybody gave me, but I didn’t have any confidence in my own self. And coming out of the police academy, I learned I could do anything, and it gave me that confidence.”
After working in law enforcement for some time, she received her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Lynn University and a master’s degree in leadership from Nova University. She has two adult daughters and now lives in Ocoee. When she’s not working, she spends her time exploring Ocoee, horseback riding and attending craft festivals.
Her husband, two horses and three dogs still live in Davie, and she drives down to visit on weekends. But her past four weeks living in Ocoee has been spent learning about the community, meeting government officials and exploring the history. She keeps several photos of historical places on her cell phone, such as the stained glass windows in the old Ocoee Christian Church.
She hopes her husband and pets soon will move to Ocoee with her. But in the meantime, she plans to continue getting to know the community she’s sworn to serve.
“(Serving others is) one of the most important components of my life,” she said.
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected].