When he looks back on the tragedy that took a dozen lives, including Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Ron Helus, Brian Solinsky considers the possibility of a mass shooting happening anywhere, even in the town he’s assigned to protect.
Solinsky, South Pasadena’s acting police chief, looks to those around him who might face a similar situation someday.
“I think about my officers,” explained Solinsky, a longtime veteran of the department who took over after Art Miller left in August to become police chief in Peoria, Arizona. “Do they have the training? Are they best equipped? Do they have everything they need to respond to a situation like that? I hope that is never put to the test for our officers. But in the event it does, I know I’ve done everything I can to make sure they are ready for it – ready to meet that challenge.”
In the minds of many, Sgt. Helus died a hero after being shot by a gunman who killed 11 others at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks on November 7.
“Our heart obviously goes out to all the victims and their families and certainly Sgt. Helus who lost his life,” said Solinsky, who was among many law enforcement officials in attendance at Calvary Chapel Community Church in Westlake Village. Thursday for the fallen sergeant. “There’s the old saying that ‘when officers hear gunfire they run to it.’ And that’s exactly what this officer did. He went in there to save and protect lives.”
Joined by a California Highway Patrol officer, Helus was among the first to enter the bar. Gunfire was exchanged and Helus was shot multiple times by the suspect identified as Ian David Long. The following morning Helus died at a nearby hospital.
Solinsky says it’s now time to concentrate on stopping future events like the one that just occurred – admittedly, not an easy task.
“Law enforcement is a living, breathing thing and constantly needs to change and evolve,” he said. “Years and years ago when I started we didn’t experience things such as this. As more and more started coming about, we had to change our tactics, adapt. Even our tactics when shootings started to become popular, everyone talked about forming up in a diamond formation and going in. That was kind of the mentality, the new trend. We still do that, but we’ve added a whole lot to that. There’s a lot more components so that we’re better equipped and able to respond tactically. So it has to evolve, unfortunately.”
“In law enforcement,” continued Solinsky, “we can’t afford to be stagnant, can’t afford to wait until the next one. We need to prepare now and, hopefully, prevent it instead of responding to it.”
He said his officers continue to undergo active shooter training with surrounding communities, partnering to help fight off incidents. “If we were faced with something [like the Borderline Bar situation] in South Pasadena we could activate that mutual aid and get officers from Alhambra, Pasadena, San Marino and other local agencies,” explained Solinsky. “Because we train with them, we have a common game plan or response. Everyone knows what the other person is going to do. We work on that very frequently.”
The South Pasadena Police Department also reaches out to the local school district and faith-based groups to provide training should an active shooter situation arise.
We’re always asking, ‘What can we do to assist, what is it you’re looking for, could we better assist you?” said Solinsky. “We tell them how we’re going to respond ahead of time should their be an event. We don’t want to catch them off guard or be shocked. We let them know that law enforcement is going to be there to help protect them.”
What’s changed in recent years, according to Solinsky, is fire department officials have changed their tactics, are beginning to wear protective vests and going into the hot zones with police. “We’re starting to see cross-training with our fire departments,” he said.
Why the spree in shootings? What prompts a person to end the lives of others by spraying bullet? “It’s a combination of a lot of things,” said a solemn Solinsky. “It’s the combination of a lot of things. I think it’s the mental health aspect of it. I think it’s narcotic additions. There are just a lot of components. I wish I had the answer. A lot of the experts are searching for that answer. There really isn’t one. What we experienced in Ventura County is a tragic event that is occurring way too often.”
After the service for Helus, a procession followed to the Pierce Brothers Valley Mortuary and Cemetery, where the sergeant was laid to rest.
Helus, 54, a 29-year veteran of the department, is survived by his wife, Karen, and their 24-year-old son, Jordan.