Richard Heins, left, receives a retirement badge for his police dog Chase during the dog’s Nov. 16, 2018, retirement party at the Sterling Heights Police Department. Heins worked for the Police Department for around 30 years before retiring in March and passing away in April.

Richard Heins, left, receives a retirement badge for his police dog Chase during the dog’s Nov. 16, 2018, retirement party at the Sterling Heights Police Department. Heins worked for the Police Department for around 30 years before retiring in March and passing away in April.

File photo by Deb Jacques


SHPD K-9 handler dies a month after retiring

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published May 6, 2019

Advertisement

STERLING HEIGHTS — Richard Heins will always be remembered by the Sterling Heights police chief as a  6-foot-6-inch man with a heart of gold, and one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet.

“He is an imposing figure, but a gentle giant,” Chief Dale Dwojakowski said.

The Sterling Heights Police Department is in mourning after Heins, who served on the police force as an officer for around 30 years, died April 28. Heins was 54, and according to his obituary, he is survived by two sons in their 20s.

Police Department officials said Heins was hired in 1989, became a K-9 handler in the mid-1990s and later became a trainer for the Police Department. His first two dogs were Rolf and Morgan. According to the department, Heins served with his last police dog, Chase, for around 10 years.

Heins had just retired in March.

“Obviously, our Sterling Heights family was devastated to learn of his death,” Dwojakowski said. “He dedicated his entre life to the city and the police K-9 program. He started the program in 1995 and is known regionally for being a nationally certified instructor and a true expert in regard to K-9 handling.”

Dwojakowski said Heins was in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator before he ultimately lost his life.

“He had some medical issues,” the chief said. “We believe he also came down with the flu virus, which complicated things even further.”

The chief described the experience of only being able to enjoy retirement for one month as tragic, unfair and a “police officer’s nightmare,” since officers look forward to a happy retirement after a career of dangers. He said the staff’s hearts go out to Heins’ family, and police thank him for his dedication to the city.

“We’re so sad that he didn’t have many more years of retirement,” Dwojakowski said. “He definitely earned it.”

Heins was the Sterling Heights Police Officers Association’s president from 1996 to 2018, according to Sterling Heights police officer Mike Kunath. Kunath has since taken over the role.

Kunath called Heins a great friend, a mentor and a generous person.

“When Rich walked into a room, he took control of the room with just his presence alone,” he said. “Sometimes, besides catching bad guys, he was also public relations, and he had no problem showing off the skills that he taught his dog.”

During Chase’s November 2018 retirement ceremony, the Police Department announced that they would name a K-9 training field at Baumgartner Park after Heins. A memorial service for Heins was scheduled for May 6 at Heins Field. In addition, a Richard C. Heins Memorial K9 Fund was created to care for police dogs.

Find out more about the memorial fund by calling the city of Sterling Heights at (586) 446-2489.

Advertisement