Heine retires from Safety Town - Republic-Times | News

Heine retires from Safety Town

By on June 20, 2018 at 4:19 pm

Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul, at left, and Deputy Chief of Police Jason Donjon, middle, presented Detective Sgt. Karla Heine, at right, with a plaque to thank her for her 13 years of leading the Safety Town program. (James “Tal” Moss photo)

In May 2005, the Columbia Police Department sent Karla Heine to O’Fallon, Mo., to learn about a program  used nationwide to teach children about a wide variety of safety issues. 

While observing the O’Fallon Police Department’s Safety Town, Heine would regularly call the Columbia Police Department to tell them all the things they would need to put on their own version of the program. 

The next month, Heine, who had only been with the department for about a year, would help lead its first Safety Town program. It lasted one week and had 29 students and five adult volunteers.

Thirteen years later, Heine is retiring from serving in a leading role at Safety Town. 

“I’m really going to miss it,” Heine said. “The more I’m here the more I miss it. It’s really sad for me, but I know it’s a new chapter for us and our police department.”

She said she wanted to retire from the role to allow another member of the police force the opportunity. 

“I just would like to give somebody else a chance to enjoy it like I have for the past 13 years,” Heine explained.

Since that first program 13 years ago, Safety Town has grown to a two-week affair. This year, it saw a record 115 students, including 61 graduates last week.

Additionally, it now has more than a dozen teenage and adult volunteers.

In Heine’s 13 years leading the program, more than 1,300 students have participated in the program and 28 classes have graduated from it. 

“It has totally grown,” Heine said. “We’ve added a lot of things. Everything has just gotten much bigger.”

Through all those changes, Heine has been a constant.

“I don’t know how we’re going to do it without Karla,” Columbia Deputy Police Chief Jason Donjon said. He has assisted Heine with Safety Town since 2009. “If you know Karla at all, you know she is the most down-to-earth person you’ll ever meet. She genuinely cares about every kid that’s ever gone through Safety Town.”

Heine said she believes all those Safety Town children have benefited from the program in multiple ways. 

“These kids remember this stuff,” she said. “I run into them out on the street and they’re doing the things that we’ve taught them. The parents are also really good about going over these things with the kids.”

It’s also a good community thing because we all get together. The kids see us out on the streets and they know not to be afraid of the police. They know not to be afraid of the fire department.”

The students have not been  the only ones learning from Heine’s time with the program. She said leading the program has taught her about planning, budgeting, organizing, patience and the importance of community. 

“This is such a small-town atmosphere and I just love it,” Heine said in a speech to dozens of family members of Safety Town students. “I grew up here in Columbia, and when I was young I didn’t really appreciate it. But I really do now. We all come together as a community, we all care for one another and most of all we all care about our children.” 

While she has played a key role, Heine also credited other people with making Safety Town a success, including Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul, Donjon, parents of the students and the volunteers who help run the program.

“The volunteers are essential,” she noted. “We have to have them.”

She also praised how supportive the community has been.

“We don’t lack people signing up,” she added. “We don’t lack volunteers, that’s for sure. We don’t lack donations or anything from the city.”

Given all those positive experiences, Heine still said her favorite aspect of helping to lead Safety Town for 13 years was the opportunity to work with the children. 

“They are just so sweet and innocent,” she said. “With our jobs, we don’t deal with that very often. We just kind of deal with the bad things that happen.  We are lucky to play and work with these kids.”

James Moss