Heineman, ex-police chief, dies

Bronx native led the Raleigh department for 15 years, then went to Congress.

staff writerMarch 22, 2010 

— Fred Heineman, known as "The Chief" long after he retired as head of the Raleigh Police Department to serve a term in Congress, died Saturday after a period of declining health.

He was 80.

Frederick K. Heineman was a Bronx native who began his career in law enforcement as a foot patrolman in Harlem. He rose through the ranks of the New York City police department, working the riot squad, narcotics, organized crime and police corruption.

When he was hired as Raleigh's police chief in 1979, he began to transform the department, promoting women and minorities and developing one of the best investigative forces in the country.

He told it like it was, in a tough-sounding New York accent, but Heineman was also known as a compassionate leader during his 15 years as top cop. "It wasn't always possible, but if it was at all possible, he believed that people deserved a second chance," said Raleigh Police Chief Harry Dolan, who in 1982 was one of Heineman's young recruits.

Once, Dolan went before the City Council to lobby for a pay raise for the police department. Afterward, he got called into the chief's office.

"He let me know that I had handled myself very professionally and that I should always handle myself that way," Dolan said. "I always found him to be a straight-shooter. I never doubted how he felt about something.

"In the vernacular of the neighborhood he grew up in, he was a stand-up guy."

Dempsey Benton, former Raleigh city manager and Heineman's boss for a decade, said Heineman "believed in discipline and doing the right thing, but I think he also appreciated how hard it was to be a police officer sometimes."

Heineman was working for Benton when he decided, at age 64, to retire from law enforcement and run for Congress. Running as a Republican, with the support of thousands of his North Raleigh neighbors, Heineman narrowly defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. David Price in one of the biggest upsets in the state in the 1994 election. Heineman headed off to Washington hoping to increase penalties for crimes against children, stop the early release of drug offenders and reform welfare to get people back to work.

Once there, he was appointed to two important committees: judiciary and banking.

U.S. Rep. Howard Coble from Greensboro introduced Heineman to the judiciary committee. Before he did so, Coble said, he asked Heineman whether he wanted to be introduced to the group of mostly lawyers as the former Raleigh police chief, or a longtime police officer.

"He thought for a second, and then he said, 'I'm a cop. That's who I am,' " Coble recalled Sunday.

Always 'Chief'

Those who worked for him continued to call him "Chief," including Phyllis Stephens, who was his press secretary during the campaign and his district manager after the election.

Stephens said that when she went to work for Heineman, she told him, "I'm never going to lie for you," and he answered, "I would never ask you to."

The closest he ever came, she said, was during the campaign, when he had been instructed to run by the office of some potential donors. It was late in the day, he was tired, and he hated fundraising. They drove to the donors' address, pulled into the parking lot, passed the building and went back out.

"We went by there," Heineman pronounced.

"I didn't have to lie," Stephens said.

After he had spent one term in Congress, representing North Carolina's 4th Congressional District, Heineman was defeated by Price, the Democrat whom he had sent home two years before.

In a statement, Price said Sunday he had admired Heineman's work as Raleigh's police chief.

"His work in law enforcement helped make the Capital City one of the best places in the country to live and raise a family," Price said.

Heineman had a large family of his own: the five children he had with his first wife, Barbara, who died of cancer in 1986; and a stepdaughter with his wife, Linda, whom he married in 1989.

Linda Heineman said that her husband didn't take up any hobbies after they left Washington and returned to Raleigh in 1997.

"Law enforcement and public service were his hobbies," she said.

Arrangements, which are incomplete, will be handled by Brown-Wynne Funeral Homes.

martha.quillin@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8989

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