Lodi Police Chief: Near Tragedy at Library Should Have Never Happened

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It’s been two and half weeks since a literacy event triggered big controversy in Lodi – controversy because a cop working that event got shot with his own gun by a child.

The police department seemed to conceal some of the details about this for a week after it happened. Congratulations for the “Little Buckaroos Reading Roundup” were sent out with no mention of the near tragedy.

Now Chief Mark Helms wants the public to know he’s focused on safety and transparency.

“Make no mistake – this should not have happened. That a six-year-old child was able to get an officer’s weapon and discharge it … that should not have occurred,” said Helms, speaking from his office Wednesday afternoon.

The chief struck a much different tone than what the public heard from his department one week after a little boy was able to a fire a SWAT officer’s Glock 35 in a crowded library – grazing that officer’s leg.

Here’s what a spokeswoman said back on Aug. 31.

“There’s really nothing that could have been done differently. It was really nobody’s fault,” she said.

Now the chief has some deeper perspective to offer.

“We’re conducting a very thorough administrative investigation to determine what happened and what we can do in the future to correct it,” said Helms.

He says that seven-year department veteran Robert Rench, whose primary job is as a school resource officer, had his SWAT weapon properly stowed with the holster’s thumb brake in place.

His attention was on the child he was putting a tactical vest on during a demonstration at the library.

The holster was on his thigh, right at the eye-line of the young child who reached into it.

Lieutenant Sierra Brucia explains how that’s possible.

“The opening here is designed to accept the flashlight that’s on the bottom of the gun, obviously larger than it would need to be if there was not flashlight attached. And that’s what’s allowing for the trigger to be exposed a little bit,” said Brucia.

Non-SWAT officers use different weapons that have holsters with a much tighter fit.

Helms believes Rench is not a fault.

“He’s a very reputable officer. He’s a very fine police officer,” said Helms.

And neither is the child who ran off after the shooting – leaving police still searching.

“There is indication that an adult walked away from the event with the child,” said Helms. “We just want to get the facts to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

With the constant threat of an adult suspect grabbing an officer’s gun, Chief Helms wants to talk to the child in this situation.

The goal is to be able to adjust department policies and procedures based on what’s learned.

Helms wants the shooter’s parents to please give his department a call. He’s asking the public to remember a better department will come out of all this.

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