Changes since undersheriff started in law enforcement
By the eighth grade, Rebecca Spiess had locked on to her career path. The oldest of six siblings, she announced to friends and family she would one day be an FBI agent. That dream was derailed after she penned a letter to the FBI informing the agency of her intentions.
“I sent a letter to J. Edgar Hoover, and I got back some response that at this time we don’t have female agents, but there may be opportunities in records,” she said.
But that wouldn’t be the last the FBI heard from Spiess. In 2008, Mesa County’s first female undersheriff added another first to her repertoire. She would be the first woman in the Rocky Mountain region to train at the FBI academy.
“The irony was not lost on me,” Spiess said.
When Spiess first landed a job as a cop in Lakewood in 1977, there were few female officers. Fast forward more than three decades, and women are commonplace in the ranks of law enforcement, she said.
“I just don’t see the barriers like I did in the ‘70s,” Spiess said.
One of those hurdles was eroded with the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which requires larger employers to offer at least a period of unpaid leave for medical conditions or pregnancies. Previously, a job may not be protected with an employee’s extended absence.
It’s encouraging now to see employees bring family into work and that the department is flexible for employees with family issues, Spiess said.
She left law enforcement to work as a fraud investigator for several banks. Although she enjoyed the work, she felt drawn back to law enforcement after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
She was hired by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department to lead the Professional Standards Unit in 2004, and officially was appointed undersheriff by Sheriff Stan Hilkey in 2006.
Hilkey is serving his last term, which ends in 2014.
She quickly answers no when asked whether she will run for sheriff, saying she’s nearing retirement.
Then Spiess reconsiders.
“I’m not going to close the door on running for sheriff. I don’t have plans that way yet,” she said.