Richard H. Levine, 69, Sun investigative reporter

July 12, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Richard H. Levine, a former reporter for The Sun whose 1964 series on police ineptitude led to the firing of the city police commissioner and reorganization of the department, died Tuesday of an apparent heart attack at his home in Washington. He was 69.

"He liked digging for facts and hearing about people's lives," said his daughter Jody Levine Lehrer, an environmental attorney from Weymouth, Mass. "He had a real ability to bring out sides of people they weren't comfortable telling others."

He preferred investigative journalism and was a staunch environmentalist, Ms. Lehrer said.

Born in West Rutland, Vt., Mr. Levine graduated from the University of Vermont and did graduate study at Vanderbilt University. He served as a paratrooper in the Army during the Korean War.

In addition to working for The Sun in the mid-1960s, Mr. Levine worked for the Rutland Herald, Associated Press and Washington Times.

From 1973 to 1975, he was editor of Publick Occurences, a weekly newspaper in New Hampshire that uncovered Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis' plans to build a 600,000-barrel-a-day oil refinery on a site overlooking Great Bay near Durham, N.H.

The stories, which often took up entire issues of the paper, galvanized citizen opposition to the project and helped defeat it, according to Phyllis Bennett, who was the publisher.

Mr. Levine married Barbara Davis in 1954. After her death in 1967, he often took his two young daughters to work with him.

"I remember many days sitting at the Baltimore Police Department, while my father went through files," said Ms. Lehrer.

In December 1964, The Sun published a series of articles by Mr. Levine in which he wrote that the Police Department was "manned, equipped and financed heavily enough for modern warfare on crime, yet it is waging a primitive kind of guerrilla action marked by inefficient administrative procedures, haphazard planning and lax discipline."

In his seven-month investigation, Mr. Levine found, among other things, inaccurate recordkeeping that made the city appear safer than it was, insufficient patrolling and frequent cases of officers going to bars while on duty.

A special state commission appointed by then-Gov. J. Millard Tawes and headed by Attorney General Thomas B. Finan to study the department agreed with many of Mr. Levine's findings, leading to the resignation of Police Commissioner Bernard J. Schmidt in February 1966.

Mr. Levine worked at the Washington Times in the 1980s and retired in 1989, but wrote free-lance articles for newspapers and magazines throughout the country.

He never liked computers and preferred to write on a heavy Royal typewriter, so worn that the "O" key made holes in the paper.

A memorial service is planned for 7 p.m. Saturday at Turtle Park in Washington, where Mr. Levine often went to read daily newspapers. Another service is set for 4 p.m. July 24 at Adams Point near Durham -- the site where the refinery would have been built.

In addition to Ms. Lehrer, survivors include another daughter, Abby Levine, also of Weymouth; a brother, Robert Levine of Vermont; and a granddaughter.

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