NORTH AUGUSTA - Even after 2« years in North Augusta, Bill Heim, the city's chief of public safety, never acquired a taste for grits.
"I tried grits, but didn't like them," said the Pennsylvania native who leaves North Augusta on Thursday for a similar position in his home state.
While Chief Heim may not miss one of the South's popular dishes, city officials say they will miss his leadership and vision.
"I'm very sorry to see him go," said Mayor Thomas Greene. "Bill Heim has been innovative in his approach to public safety and crime prevention."
Among the innovations credited to Chief Heim is a focus on neighborhood and community policing, said City Administrator Charles Martin.
For instance, since taking the helm Sept. 28, 1994, Chief Heim helped established seven "Cop-Stop Mini Stations" in makeshift quarters around the city.
He said the mini-stations increased police presence, contributing to an overall decrease in North Augusta's crime rate. In 1995, the last year for which information is available, FBI data showed the city's crime statistics were below the state average.
"I haven't done it alone," Chief Heim insisted.
Grits and humid summer weather aside, Chief Heim, who takes over as chief of police in Reading, Pa., on March 10, said he has some reservations about leaving North Augusta. He said things are looking up for the public safety department, which handles both police and fire emergencies.
"I have a lot of regrets about leaving here. I think we're at a point where we're realizing our skills and talents and we're beginning to utilize them, " he said.
Both Mr. Greene and Mr. Martin, while admitting the chief will be a tough act to follow, said the public safety department should be able to continue in the path he helped forge. The city will take its time naming a successor, Mr. Martin said.
City officials took some heat for not selecting someone from within the ranks when hiring Chief Heim. But the chief said it didn't take long to shake off the stigma of being a Yankee outsider.
Besides the new job bringing him closer to family in Pennsylvania, Chief Heim said he is looking forward to the challenge of a bigger city, a bigger department and a decidedly more serious crime problem. He will oversee 200 sworn officers in Reading, compared with 48 officers in North Augusta.
Chief Heim, 41, began his law enforcement career 20 years ago as a beat cop in Upper Moreland, Pa., just outside Philadelphia. He stayed there for 14« years and rose through the ranks.
Ironically, the chief is leaving North Augusta after implementing a career development program designed to retain quality officers and give them an opportunity to move into supervisory ranks and earn more money.
Mr. Greene lamented the loss of the city's top cop, but said, as in any profession, the best and brightest are actively pursued. "If people have talent, they're going to be in demand everywhere," he said.