By Jennifer Gomori, MAPE Editor

Rich Heins has spent his career helping fellow law enforcement officers, from serving as President of his local Union board to Executive Board President of MAP. So, when a duty injury pushed him into retirement, Heins decided to put his skills to work as a full-time MAPE Labor Relations Specialist.

Over a year ago Heins, a Sterling Heights Police K-9 Officer and K-9 trainer, was injured during a K9 training exercise. “It was a certification trial,” Heins said. “I set my dog loose for apprehension, ran after him and stepped in a hole and broke my left foot and ankle.”

Labor Relations Specialist Rich Heins

The injury was so severe, the 53-year-old had to take a year off police work while he went through several surgeries and physical therapy. He came back on light duty to train more K9s for 16 weeks in 2018 before doctors recommended he undergo another surgery in early 2019. Heins decided to retire from police work in mid-March and began working as a Labor Relations Specialist.

Heins helped start the Sterling Heights K9 program and his love of dogs and helping other officers led him to become a trainer. “In 1995, I had the first dog, Rolf. There was a Lieutenant at the time that wrote the proposal. I helped him write it and City Council accepted and we got a dog,” Heins said. “I always loved dogs. When I was in college, I had a frat house Great Dane and had dogs my whole life. It was an epiphany, something I always wanted to do.”

Heins worked with two other police K9s during his career – Morgan and then Chase. Chase was retired in November 2018 after serving the department 10 years and currently lives with Heins. Heins thanked Sterling Heights City Councilwoman Deanna Koski for helping make the Police Department’s K-9 program possible nearly 25 years ago. “I believe my career went the way it went because of Councilwoman Koski and being able to establish this K-9 unit,” he said in a C&G Newspaper article.

In honor of Heins K9 work, the training field at Baumgartner Park was renamed Heins Field. “I’m very honored that it happened,” Heins said of the field renaming.“I started at Oakland Community College (OCC) as Assistant K9 Trainer there,” Heins said. He left OCC and became Head K9 Trainer at Macomb Community College Police Academy where he worked from 2008-2014. Eventually, Heins decided to run his own police dog training business, Skooby Do’s and Don’ts K9 Training at Heins Field in Sterling Heights. He has trained about 130 police dogs, most of which work in the U.S. and some in Canada.

“I’m just going to miss the work with the dog, catching bad guys with the dog, and training the dog,” Heins said, adding he would bring his K9s to the local schools when he performed daily security checks. “What I miss most is the PR I do with the kids. They just love the dogs. I was in school every day doing dog demos and letting them interact with the dog.”

In his nearly 30-year career with the department, Heins spent 23 of those years as local Union President. He was voted in as Executive Board Vice President in December 2010 and served in that role until he became President, serving from December 2012 to December 2018.

“I just wanted to take a moment to thank Rich for his years of involvement and years of leadership. He’s been a real joy to work with,” said MAPE Executive Director Fred Timpner at Heins’ last board meeting in December 2018. “He is committed to representing law enforcement and public employees. I’m sad to see him step down, but he will join our staff full-time.”

Turning to face Heins, Timpner said, “Your dedication to this organization has been outstanding.”

In 2016, Heins was sworn in to MAP’s official permanent seat on Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES). He took over the remainder of Timpner’s two-year term and was subsequently sworn in for another two-year term in December 2018.

“Union rights are super important in our business, especially with the unfair perception of police,” Heins said. “I think employees need somebody on their side to make sure they get due process.”