By Steve Bertel
We often see TV news reports of horrific crimes that have occurred … police manhunts … fugitives hauled off to jail … or relatives distraught over losing a loved one to a violent act.
For most of us, it’s a way to keep abreast of the day’s headlines.
For former homicide detective Vic Rodriguez, it was a way of life.
Philippians 2:3-4 urges us to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves; not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others.”
And that’s exactly what Vic has been doing for the more than five decades of his adult life.
But growing up in rural southcentral Idaho in the ’60s, pursuing a law enforcement career was the furthest thing from Vic’s mind. His father – tired of going from farm to farm, eking out a living doing agricultural work – eventually settled the family in the small town of Burley, where he was soon hired as a police officer. “In fact, my father was one of Idaho’s very first Hispanic patrol officers,” Vic proudly points out. “But he never told us details about any of the investigations he was working on because he wanted to shield us from that ‘ugly’ world he saw every day. We would simply see him leave for work in his blue uniform, with his badge and his nightstick – and years later, in a suit with his shoulder holster hidden under it, when he was promoted to a detective.
“He didn’t want us to worry about what he did; he wanted us to concentrate on our family life. And our schooling.”
Following that advice, Vic – then a stocky and athletic eighteen-year-old – was awarded a baseball scholarship. In fact, he was recruited by several well-known colleges, but chose instead to attend the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls. The Rodriguezes were a small, close-knit family in a small, close-knit community, so attending CSI meant he could stay close to his parents, two sisters, and two brothers.
His father had several times encouraged Vic to pursue a career in law enforcement; after all, his son was strong, determined, loyal. He’d make a good cop. But Vic had other ideas. He wanted to become a physical therapist, although getting the knowledge, training, and certification for the job was way down the road.
He needed to make money now, to help support his family; so Vic took a job at the nearby Ore-Ida potato processing plant. But after several boring midnight-to-7 a.m. shifts doing little more than peeling spuds hours on end, Vic quickly changed his mind.
“That’s when I went to Dad and asked, ‘What would it take for me to be a police officer?’”
Back in those days – in 1974, and especially in small towns – it took very little.
Because, incredibly, one day later, Vic was hired on-the-spot as a patrolman for the Rupert Police Department, a town even smaller than Burley. “I wondered, ‘What have I gotten myself into?!’,” he recalls, “especially when my commanding officer told me little more than ‘Here’s your gun. Here’s your uniform. Here’s your badge.’ And sent me out on patrol.”
However, little did Vic know at that time that God had something amazing in store for him.
Attending the Peace Officers Standards and Training Academy and becoming a certified law enforcement officer meant his career was off and running. And he quickly grew to love the work.
Of course, police back then didn’t have all the computers and high-tech gadgets they use today. So Vic tediously tracked down suspects by knocking on doors, working the phones, manually searching through public records, and meeting with confidential informants in sometimes seedy places.
But it wasn’t long before Vic realized “God had put me in the right place at the right time, because my career blossomed. I got to where I really enjoyed solving crimes (often arresting suspects a few days later), getting justice for victims, and essentially protecting and serving the community. The job, the work, the results all made me feel good. I loved it!” he beams.
For Vic, life was great. He was married, his family was growing, and he had a solid career ahead of him.
But something was amiss.
Raised in a devout Catholic family, his parents were very strong in their walk with the Lord. “But in my twenties,” Vic says, “I had put all my efforts and time and energy into my career … and eventually attended Mass less and less.”
Then pretty soon, not at all, often finding work-related excuses as to why he couldn’t go.
“At that time, I didn’t realize the necessity of staying connected to the Lord and to other believers,” he admits.
Eventually, Vic realized he had a “void in his heart”, as he puts in.
And his father knew it as well. “Dad kept telling me, encouraging me to ‘Come back to church. Come back to church.’ Honestly, I knew something was missing in my life. So I prayed and prayed to God for an answer, to give me a sign. And He soon showed me that the sign was already within me!”
So when Vic returned to church on a regular basis, “That’s when a whole new world opened up!” he recalls. “I realized what I had been missing all those years.”
Today, Vic and his wife attend both a Catholic church, in keeping with his own familial roots, and a non-denominational church, in keeping with his wife’s familial roots. “And we love it so much! We always both learn a lot from the messages. We always find them so uplifting,” he says.
In 1978, Vic was working as a detective for the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office in Idaho Falls when the phone rang. It was then-Canyon County Sheriff George Nourse, calling to offer him a job.
At that time, Canyon County was beginning to see a burgeoning Hispanic population. “I guess Sheriff Nourse had heard about my work in eastern Idaho and, being proactive, said, ‘I’m looking for a detective to help us in the Hispanic community. Would you be interested in coming to work for me?’” Vic recalls. The new job would mean a raise in pay and a higher rank. “So I took the offer.”
But Vic was not your stereotypical, gruff police detective. “Jesus teaches us to ‘Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.’ And that’s exactly what I’ve done over the years, regardless of whether I was consoling an emotionally-distraught victim or sitting across an interrogation room table from a person who had purposely killed someone.
“I always treat people with respect. With dignity. With honor,” he says. “And, strange as it may sound, I always thank them for sitting down and talking with me. Because, after all, regardless of what happened to them or regardless of what heinous crime they’ve been charged with, they’re still human.”
Vic spent four years with the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office, until Bonneville County beckoned him back.
“And that’s when my career really took off!” he remembers. There, he became a full-time homicide/major crimes detective – and the lead investigator on many cases. In fact, Vic soon acquired a stellar track record. “I never had an unsolved homicide. The suspects I arrested were always convicted.”
And his work attracted national media attention. Twice. Production crews from a pair of true-crime documentary series – Investigation Discovery’s “Ice Cold Killers” and “On the Case with Paula Zahn” – came to town on separate occasions and interviewed Vic about how he had helped solve two of eastern Idaho’s high-profile homicides. He didn’t particularly enjoy having lights and cameras in his face; after all, he was simply doing his job.
But more important than all the closed cases and media notoriety, “… in this line of work, you have to have faith in the Lord,” Vic emphasizes. “Every major case I ever handled was terrible. And I felt it was my job as a detective, as a public servant, to bring closure to the victims and their families. So whenever I was working a case, I prayed. A lot. For the families, the victims. I prayed that they would find peace and consolation, especially after all that had happened to them; that they would even perhaps find it in their hearts to forgive the person who had so cruelly victimized them. And I prayed for myself. I often called upon the Lord to give me clear thinking, to help me look at the case from a different perspective, a different angle, to help me, guide me, and to steer me to that critical piece of evidence that would lead to an arrest and, hopefully, a conviction. And even when I’m not working a case, I pray quite a bit. It helps keep me focused on what’s truly important in my life … and to keep me positive.”
In 1999, Vic’s high closed-case numbers eventually caught the attention of Nampa Police Chief Alan Creech, who made the detective a job offer – which soon brought Vic and his family back to the Treasure Valley.
So, while now investigating robberies, check frauds, identity thefts, and the like in the Property Crimes Division, Vic also became supervisor of the Nampa Police Department’s CART (Child Abduction Response Team), tasked with locating missing or abducted children. “It was one of the most satisfying assignments of my career,” Vic recalls – noting that, of all the cases his team investigated, every child was located and returned to their parents unharmed.
On February, 2012, Vic brought his exemplary 40-year law enforcement career to an end and officially retired, with hundreds of supporters and well-wishers attending a ceremony at the Nampa Civic Center hosted by the Nampa Police Department.
And though he was perfectly happy not tracking down bad guys anymore, Vic still had a desire in his heart to keep serving his community.
So he became an active civic volunteer, serving with the Kiwanis Club of Treasure Valley, the Optimist Football League of Nampa, and the Nazarene Church Ministries Food Bank, among others. He’s also a longtime supporter of groups such as the Northwest Nazarene University Education Fund, Knights of Columbus-Catholic men’s charity organization with St. Paul’s Church, and the Idaho Sheriffs Association.
Deciding to further serve his community by entering the political world, Vic successfully ran for a seat on the Nampa City Council, and was sworn in as one of the city’s newest council members in 2017.
What he considers one of his most notable achievements was helping to get the words “In God We Trust” emblazoned on the wall of the City Council chambers. “No taxpayer funds were used, because my fellow council members and I funded the project out of our own pockets,” Vic explains. “To this day, I am so proud to have been involved with that project. Every time I see those precious words on the wall, I smile, say a prayer, and thank God for His help in making that effort a success.”
Recently, Vic was reelected to a second four-year term. And today, at age 71, while continuing to serve on the boards of several non-profit organizations, he works to keep his family life in balance, always making sure to spend quality time with his wife, four children, three stepchildren, and twenty-three grandchildren.
So what does his future hold?
“I’ve always felt: do what the Lord directs you to do, whether it’s in your private life or your professional life. So, as far as my own future? I have no idea,” he smiles. “But I’ll continue to willingly go – and willingly serve – wherever God leads me.”
Steve Bertel is a multi-award-winning professional radio, television, print media, and social media journalist who recently retired after a 30-year broadcasting career. Now a busy freelance writer, he recently released his debut suspense novel “Dolphins of an Unjust Sea”, available on both Amazon and Kindle. Steve and his wife of 39 years live in Meridian, Idaho. He can be reached at [email protected].