Policing a dream

Rodney Heath, all 5-10 and 175 pounds of him, plays like his father used to walk the beat at the corner of Reading and California.

Bobby Heath, all 5-9 and 160 pounds of him, has been retired from District 4 since October. The last 22 years on the beat. Six years before that as a prison guard at what they called "The Work House."

But when he gets his coffee at the Quick Stop on Reading Road just to keep busy, the bad guys still start mumbling, "There's Heath, what's he doing here?" and take off.

"You had to roll up on 'em," says Bobby Heath, the former police officer they call "The Mayor of Bond Hill."

"You had to give 'em an attitude adjustment. You had to get their attention."

They have to pay attention to Rodney Heath now. He's a hell of a story. A Western Hills High School story.

A Cincinnati story.

Free agent off the street who sends a tape to his hometown Bengals. Fresh from something called the Minnesota Monsters and arenaball. Makes the NFL team at the minimum. Turns out to be its most consistent cornerback for two years. Wins a six-figure signing bonus and is making $700,000 per year for the next three years.

When he came to Paul Brown Stadium to sign the contract Tuesday, he recalled how nervous he was nearly three years ago when he went to Spinney Field to sign the first deal.

How equipment manager Rob Recker drove him to the physical. How personnel man Jim Lippincott had those six sheets of paper on his desk to sign. How he hoped it wasn't all a dream and they would suddenly take the pen away.

The deal just came down this past weekend, but Rodney and Kim Heath and the two kids aren't going to change much in the house they're building in Florence, Ky.

"Maybe make the ceilings nine feet instead of eight," Rodney Heath says. "But that's about it."

So now you know why he's the mayor's son. Bobby Heath isn't changing, either, over in Northside.

Well. .

"I'm going to get another dog," Bobby Heath says. "You've got to understand. This is the Hood. There are some bad kids, man. But I'm not moving. I'm staying up here on this hill. I raised my children here. I'm not leaving. I think I can still be a difference. I can help some of these bad kids."

So now you know

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why Rodney Heath made it.

Bobby and Chris Heath's kids always walked the line. She still teaches elementary school. Strict. Tough. Common sense.

When Rodney was just born and they were living in what Bobby calls the projects over near Interstate 74, he used to keep his gun under his mattress for protection.

One day seven-year old Lee was jumping on the bed and the gun slipped out. Next thing Lee knew, he was so curious he fired a shot.

"He whipped me," Lee said. "Three different times. I think it's the last time I stepped out of line."

The gun went into a safe, but Daddy had spoken. Be smart or there will be consequences. One time Rodney broke curfew, and Bobby took the car from him for a few days.

The oldest, a daughter, is married with two children and working. Lee, 31, the middle child, toiled 10 years in pro baseball and played Triple A for the game's most talented farm system in the Atlanta Braves. Now he's married with two children and works for Procter & Gamble.

Then there's Rodney, 26, who once tackled 240-pound Pro Bowl running back Eddie George in the open field with his shoulder.

"I told my baby boy, 'Don't go tackling those 250-pound guys like that,'" Bobby Heath says. "I told him, 'Use your forearms.' He told me, "Daddy, that's just the way I play.' Lord have mercy."

So now you know. That's kind of how Bobby Heath made his biggest collar ever.

Oct. 23, 1998.

Bobby Heath was in full uniform, on his way to a detail at the library. He stopped at Antonio's Pizza to get a three-piece chicken when he saw a guy he knew from the streets. The guy just happened to be one of Cincinnati's 10 Most Wanted.

Officer Heath glanced at him and said, "Aren't you wanted?"

"The guy tried to make make a move," Bobby Heath says. "But I drew the gun and made him lay down. Hey, I was ready to pop him. I don't remember (why he was wanted). All I know is if you're one of the most wanted, you're a bad dude."

Bobby Heath is a Cincinnati guy all the way. He grew up hard in the West End and followed his "Daddy," to work at a chicken coop on the old Second Street where the Serpentine Wall is now. And even though his son is playing for the Bengals, it doesn't stop him from calling TalkMaster Andy Furman on the radio and being a fan.

"We left here at midnight to drive Rodney to college," Bobby Heath says of the trip to the University of Minnesota. "When we got to Minneapolis, I kept telling people, 'You're getting a good cornerback here. You're getting a good football player." He stuck with it. He hung in there. I'm proud of him."

Rodney is proud, too. Last Friday, they held Bobby's retirement bash from District 4. About 100 people showed up and Bobby was surprised at all the captains and colonels and guys from CSI (Criminal Section Investigation) showed up. It's funny, because he passed up plenty of chances to get promoted to be one of those guys.

"I didn't want to be inside. I didn't want to be sitting at a desk," Bobby Heath says. "That's not what I did best. What I did best is out there on the street."

And he'll still help if he can.

"I'll always be a police officer," Bobby Heath says. "I love them like they're my family."

Now you know how Rodney Heath, all 5-10 and 175 pounds of him, made it.

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