UNIVERSAL CITY — Newly retired Police Chief Gary Speer has seen a lot of things during a law-enforcement career spanning 40 years.
Thirty-six were spent with the Universal City Police Department, where he rose from patrolman to top cop.
Over time, Speer witnessed steady growth both in the community and the department.
“Of course, salaries and benefits have increased, we’ve gotten better equipment, updated our dispatch area, and gotten a better-educated police officer,” he said.
Speer resigned in January, replaced by John Siemens, a colleague who recently was Castle Hills’ police chief.
After posting the vacancy with the Texas Municipal League, law-enforcement organizations and on Universal City’s website, 18 candidates applied.
Whittled to eight, they were interviewed by Speer and a few other department heads.
City Manager Kim Turner questioned four finalists, choosing the 18-year law-enforcement veteran who earlier worked five years with UCPD and seven in Castle Hills.
“I’m a positive, motivated guy, so I hope that translates to everyone else,” Siemens said.
Speer’s grandfather, father and brother all served in public safety, so it was “a natural progression” to follow in their footsteps, the lawman said.
In the early 1980s, he was first a Bexar County reserve deputy constable before getting a full-time position with the Hondo Police Department, and then Kirby’s, before signing with UCPD.
Speer said Universal City’s growth, leaders and residents made him feel at home during his stay. He left an impression on officials such as Turner, who said Speer is known for a quick wit, infectious laugh and storytelling skills.
Speer also possessed a personal connection with local business owners, neighbors, his personnel and their families, Turner added.
“Chief Speer is committed, dutiful, ethical, reliable, steadfast and well-respected,” Turner said. “He is a leader among leaders in the law-enforcement profession. Universal City is blessed to have him serve in our community.“
Speer’s tenure was marked by his efforts to modernize the force, including introducing electronic ticket writers, body cameras, vehicle laptops, Wi-Fi hot spots and information-storage systems.
Expansion and attendance at the Universal City Citizens Police Academy and its associated alumni association also increased during Speer’s time.
Then-City Manager Ken Taylor, who promoted Speer to police chief in 2007, praised his budget-management skills.
“I could always count on Chief Speer to end the year well under budget,” Taylor added. “On any given day, he would know the exact balance of his department’s finances. Even more to his credit, he would often suggest ways of utilizing any surplus to aid other city departments.”
Speer said he always sought to emphasize the importance of public service.
“I learned to never forget (whom) you work for,” he said. “I have had a servant’s view about this job. It always has been about (whom) you work for, and that is the citizens.”
Adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring the community adheres to public-health guidelines was his biggest challenge.
“It was certainly nothing we were prepared for, but we’ve done our best,” he said.
Speer also noted 2020 was particularly hard for police, who he said have been negatively portrayed during protests against social injustice.
“Some (officers) may feel it’s not the right thing to be right now,” he added.
As for his successor, Speer looks forward to seeing Siemens’ plans for the department.
Siemens said he wants to expand UCPD’s academy recruitment, plus engagement efforts with the neighborhood and news media.
“The greater law-enforcement community will start to see a larger impact from Universal City,” he added.
Turner gave the newcomer an early vote of confidence.
“Chief Siemens has the knowledge, skills and abilities to be a great leader for the Universal City Police Department, and that his demeanor and temperament is well-suited for our community,” the city manager said.
In retirement, Speer plans to enjoy his Hill Country cabin, hunting, fishing, woodworking and volunteering with area civic groups.
“I’ll have trouble finding time to fit in all the things I want to do,” he added.