VALE – For Sgt. Bob Speelman, the long-ago decision to become a deputy at the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office seems as if it was inevitable. .
For one, he came from a family with deep law enforcement roots.
His father, Terry, was the Baker County sheriff, and Speelman said he was always interested in law enforcement.
Last month, Speelman turned in his badge and walked into retirement after a 29-year career at the sheriff’s office as a patrol deputy and a detective.
“I’ve had a good life and a good career. I’ve met some good people. It’s been an honest, honorable life,” said Speelman.
Speelman said he was out of the Air Force and looking for work when he saw the job posting in Vale for a deputy. He applied and said he never regretted his decision.
“I was applying all over the state and I wanted a job in eastern Oregon. I am kind of a hometown, eastern Oregon boy,” he said.
The Baker City native began at the sheriff’s office as a patrol deputy and was promoted to detective in 2011.
If there was a major crime – such a homicide or a shooting – in Malheur County during past 12 year, Spellman’s investigated.
Speelman has also been on the front line of the ongoing efforts against illegal narcotics in the county. He’s been a member of the county’s High Desert Drug Task Force where he observed a shift in drug trafficking.
Speelman said there are now “more drugs and larger amounts.”
“There have been more overdoses in this county in the last few years than I’ve seen in my whole career,” said Speelman.
Speelman said adding to the problem was the decriminalization in Oregon of user amounts of illegal narcotics. The new law, he said, has made the job of police far more difficult.
“You can see it in personal crimes or serious assaults,” he said.
Assaults connected to illegal narcotics seems to be more intense, he said.
“They are more frequent and are somewhat drug related or have some ties to drugs,” he said.
Speelman said more police are needed.
“I think every law enforcement agency in eastern Oregon needs more people. We are tremendously understaffed for the area we cover,” he said.
Speelman’s detective work exposed him to the worst in humanity.
Specific cases stick out, he said, including an investigation he spearheaded more than 15 years ago into the death of a young boy.
“He was killed by his stepmom. Three years old. He was about my son’s age at the time,” said Speelman.
The case lingered for Speelman.
“Some of those things you don’t forget,” he said.
As a detective he was assigned a day shift but Speelman was often called out on crimes in the middle of the night.
“You can be in the middle of doing something with the family and get a call of a homicide. Then you have to drop everything you are doing and go,” said Speelman.
Speelman said he also served on the sheriff’s office search and rescue team and he was often called to find a lost hiker or hunter.
Those obligations as a detective made an impact on his time with his family.
“I’ve missed a lot of my kids stuff growing up and I will regret that the rest of my life,” he said.
Speelman, who served under four sheriffs, said he liked detective work.
“It’s more detail orientated. A lot more information-gathering, a lot more interviews. You are basically trying to solve a problem,” he said.
Speelman said he’s learned over his career that “there are good and bad people in all classes of people.”
“I’ve tried to treat people I’ve arrested with respect because when you take away someone’s dignity, there isn’t anything left,” he said.
He said just because he arrested someone “doesn’t make mean they are a bad person…Everyone makes mistakes,” he said.
Speelman said as he contemplated his final years at the sheriff’s office he realized it was time to move on, especially with the passage of Measure 110.
“It’s a new era of law enforcement, one that I don’t think I am able to adapt to. I disagree with a lot of the new laws,” he said.
Yet he said he has “no regrets.”
“This agency has treated me well. I don’t know if I’ve made a difference but I hope I have,” he said.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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