By Nick Diamantides
After 30 years on “the thin blue line,” Captain Mary Spiegel has retired from the Signal Hill Police Department (SHPD). Last Saturday evening, about 85 people attended a banquet honoring her at the Old Ranch Country Club in Seal Beach. Among them were SHPD administrators and officers, former police chiefs Dave Singer and Don Pedersen, and a bevy of present and former elected and appointed officials.
Spiegel, whose maiden name is Risinger, began working for the SHPD in June 1979. “I first came there as an intern from Cal State Long Beach to finish my criminal justice bachelor’s degree,” she said, noting that she was hired as the first part-time police cadet in July and then as a reserve officer in November 1979. “When I graduated from the (police) academy in May 1980, I was hired as a provisional police officer because there wasn’t a permanent spot but became a full-time permanent officer in June of that year,” she added.
Spiegel’s entire career was with the SHPD. She went up through the ranks working as a patrol officer, a detective, the SHPD’s public information officer, and the person in charge of the department’s asset forfeiture program. Later she was promoted to patrol sergeant. A few years later she advanced to administrative duties, eventually becoming a captain. She remained in the SHPD administration for 13 years.
From 1989 to 1992, while she was a detective, she joined a task force with Seal Beach and Los Alamitos police detectives. “The task force was primarily focused on narcotics,” she said. “We also worked some burglaries. We did a lot of undercover work. It was a lot of fun. It was dangerous, but we put a lot of bad guys in jail.”
Spiegel said that, in her entire 30-year career, there were only about six times that she felt her life was in danger. “There are times when you have to pull your gun out because you think somebody else has a gun or they are a threat,” she said. “Thank goodness I never had to shoot anyone.”
Spiegel noted that during the past 13 years, the most rewarding part of her job was hiring new police officers. “On my last day, April 8, I was in tears because everybody I was hugging goodbye said, ‘You hired me. You gave me my chance,’” she said. “These are guys that are dynamite police officers, and I had something to do with bringing them to Signal Hill, but the city is lucky to have them.”
Reflecting on the past, Spiegel said that the SHPD had greatly improved in the last three decades and is now highly respected by the public as well as other law-enforcement agencies. “Thirty years ago, all police departments were totally different than what they are today,” she said, explaining that, all across the nation, local law-enforcement agencies have developed more efficient methods for apprehending criminals and preventing crime while improving their relationships with the communities they serve. “That’s true of all police departments including Signal Hill,” she said. “We just have better ways of doing things. Every year we become more professional.”
Spiegel explained that she will always hold the SHPD in high esteem but is happy to retire. “I am going to miss the people. I am not going to miss getting up early every day to go to work,” she said. “There are a lot of other things I want to do, now that I will have leisure time.” Those things include spending more time with her husband, SHPD Officer Al Spiegel, and her 18-year-old son Jason. (The family lives in Long Beach.) She will also spend more time relaxing, practicing piano and visiting her parents.
“It’s been a pleasure working with Mary,” said SHPD Chief Tom Sonoff, who has been with the SHPD for nine years. “She was always a very dedicated employee, hardworking and dependable,” he added. “I have been chief for four years, and, during that time, I leaned on her very heavily to get things done within the department.”
“We are going to miss Mary,” added Signal Hill City Councilman Mike Noll. “I have been on the council for 18 years, and I work very hard on the budget.” He noted that Spiegel also worked very hard on the SHPD budget. “I didn’t really have to go over the police department budget with a fine-tooth comb,” Noll explained. “Throughout the years she kept the police department budget very efficient and made sure she was always on top of it.”
The SHPD is not replacing Spiegel. A recent reorganization of the department leaves only one captain (Ron Mark) in the administration along with two new lieutenant positions and five sergeants.