Capt. Mark Heino, who studied chemistry in college, compares a state-issued sample of a controlled substance while setting up a test in the Carroll Police Department’s lab. The department does sample testing for 16 different law-enforcement agencies in western Iowa. Heino was instrumental in setting up the lab, which can process material quicker than the state crime lab.
Capt. Mark Heino, who studied chemistry in college, compares a state-issued sample of a controlled substance while setting up a test in the Carroll Police Department’s lab. The department does sample testing for 16 different law-enforcement agencies in western Iowa. Heino was instrumental in setting up the lab, which can process material quicker than the state crime lab.

November 29, 2016

Mark Heino was a year from becoming a chemist and following in his father’s footsteps when a friend walked into the K&S Supervalu in Decorah and offered him a job.  It was 1977, and Heino was a college student and assistant grocery department manager there.

The friend was a police chief in a tiny town nearby. His department was short one officer.

“In some regard I felt like I was abandoning a career path in science,” Heino said recently. “But the lure of being a peace officer was too great. I had to do it.”

Heino grew up in different towns in different states, moving with his father, who was a chemist for DuPont. They built a rifle range in rural Decorah — when Heino was in high school — where precision, practice and discipline were paramount.

His dad had a deep sense of justice.

A few days after the grocery store encounter, Heino and the chief went to a city council meeting, held in the back of a firehouse in Ossian, and the mayor there asked Heino three questions.

Do you own a pair of black pants?

Yes.

Do you have a gun?

Of course. He has too many to count these days.

Can you start Saturday?

Heino spent a year in that town, and on Wednesday he retires from a long career in Carroll, where he moved in his second year as a police officer and is the police department’s longtime second-in-command.

Capt. Mark Heino

He abandoned a chemistry degree as a college junior, but give him some minutes to bend your ear, and he might quote Mark Twain.

He’s a subtle, soft-spoken, sharp guy who is quick to laugh.

And why not?

When you’ve been a cop as long as Heino, you’ve seen some stuff.

It might make you take a dimmer view of the world.

“Just about anybody is capable of doing anything under the right circumstances,” he said between bites of a burger at Santa Maria Winery last week.

Sometimes it’s better to laugh.

Even when confronted with death — his own death — Heino has a light touch.

It was January 2002 when Capt. Heino led a team of officers into an apartment on North Clark Street. They were searching for drugs.

Heino and then-officer Pat Gray swept to the back to be sure all the rooms were empty. But in one room lay a man with a federal warrant.

Get on the floor! Heino yelled.

He repeated the demand, with an expletive.

The man pointed a handgun at Heino and fired from less than 10 feet away.

He missed, but the bullet ricocheted and struck Gray in the leg.

Heino fired back and missed and grabbed Gray and they ran outside.

Heino hunkered behind a tree outside the door for two hours before a tactical team escorted him away. That team later stormed the apartment and shot and arrested the man.

He’s serving about 20 years in prison for drug and assault charges, set to be released in 2022, according to state records.

In an interview with the Daily Times Herald after, Heino recounted the back-room encounter:

“The thing that went through my mind was abject surprise. I’ve done many, many, many search warrants over the years. In a sense you get accustomed to how they go. I mean, no one shoots at cops in Carroll, right? So this was a major deviation.”

Abject surprise. A major deviation? Heino might have died that day.

He has a light touch.

And he has an institutional knowledge that will be missed in Carroll, a town he has policed for 38 years.

“His experience is something that is not easily replaced, and undoubtedly he will still get phone calls from officers with questions,” Police Chief Brad Burke said. “Mark bleeds Carroll PD blue. His dedication and knowledge of the profession will be missed.”

So what now?

Heino will turn to his collection of guns and books to keep him busy. He restores the weapons — some of them are relics of world wars — and shoots them at rifle ranges, and he reads about four books each month.

Life at home will be a major deviation from the unpredictable nature of policing.

“The day-to-day activity is fascinating and varied,” Heino said. “A peace officer wears many hats: social worker, minister, child care worker, therapist, ad hoc auto mechanic, counselor, and, of course, law enforcer. So, altogether, this was a career that matched my psyche and slaked my thirst for variety.”