TRAVERSE CITY — Capt. Brian Heffner spent most of his adult life with the Traverse City Police Department.
On Friday, Heffner bade farewell to the long hours, late night phone calls, National Cherry Festivals spent away from family and countless other small sacrifices in his 26-year career. He’s retiring to spend more time with his wife Cara and two daughters and to teach future generations of law enforcement officers.
“The job of a police officer is really a family job,” he said. “Your family has to be on board with you.”
Heffner started with the department’s Citizens Backup program the day he graduated high school in 1982 and spent several years as a reserve officer. He hired on full-time in 1988 after his graduation from Northwestern Michigan College’s police academy.
A former accounting student, Heffner enjoyed “following the money” in financial investigations upon his promotion to the detective bureau in 1991. He shifted into undercover drug investigations with the Traverse Narcotics Team in 1997, and said the “lifestyle” required — long drives, long hours — wasn’t feasible after the birth of his daughters, now ages 7 and 5.
“It’s one of the things you do earlier in your career,” he said.
Heffner spent five years as the detectives’ captain until moving to patrol in 2013. Traverse City Police Chief Mike Warren said Heffner’s retirement is “definitely” a loss to the department, but he expressed confidence in Sgt. Jeff O’Brien, who’ll officially be promoted into the empty captain’s position on Sunday.
“I’m sure Capt. O’Brien will be a quick learner and fill the position well,” he said.
Detective Kevin Gay will be promoted into O’Brien’s sergeant position.
Heffner said he’s not interested in another position in Traverse City or any other police department. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be out of the law enforcement field completely; he’s continuing to teach at NMC and a joint criminal justice bachelor’s degree program with Ferris State University. It allows students to take three years of classes at NMC and a fourth year taught locally by FSU professors.
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity for people who live in Traverse City and want to stay with their family and jobs,” he said.
Traverse City was a quieter town when Heffner began working the midnight patrol shift. Festivals, downtown’s revitalization and the influx of visitors into the Grand Traverse region were still years away, but the city’s department is smaller today, with five less officers.
Heffner said the city’s shrinking police force means longer hours, less interest from job seekers and could threaten proactive community policing efforts.
“I truly believe when you start simply reacting to crime that occurred you’ve failed as a police department,” he said.