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DEL PASO HEIGHTS — One of the police officers who was first on scene to a shooting at a park in Del Paso Heights during a children’s birthday party has turned what was a tragic day into a positive experience.

On April 2 Mama Mark’s Park erupted with gunfire. That day three people, including two children, were hit during a drive-by shooting. All would survive, but for Officer Chad Lewis of the Sacramento Police Department doing his job that day did not sit well with the community members that had gathered.

“We had a lot of juveniles detained as potential witnesses as part of the shooting that had happened,” Lewis said.

“I was disturbed and a lot of the community members were pissed that some of the kids in the community were being detained in officers’ cars even though they weren’t the ones responsible,” said Mervin Brookins, president of Grant Youth Sports.

Officer Lewis and Brookins had a conversation about that day, which led to a positive understanding between the two. By the end of the day, Brookins put out a challenge to the officer to have him be a part of the community that he patrols every day by helping coach peewee football.

According to Brookins, the relationship between the community and police in Del Paso Heights has always been rocky — until now.

“I am not one to back down from a challenge, so we showed up,” Lewis said.

“For him to actually show up and then keep coming, that was huge,” Brookins said.

At first, when Officer Lewis and two of his work friends showed up in uniform the kids didn’t know what to think, but over time, and with Officer Lewis out of uniform, things started clicking on both sides.

“I think it’s just a nice, level playing field for us all to get to know each other a little bit. I’ve already seen a lot of positive outcome from this,” Lewis said. “Seeing people in the street who recognize you, and kind of take some of the hostility away or apprehension away. It’s just people working on the job, and people living in a community, working on things.”

“I really believe they are changing lives,” Brookins said. “It’s not often that you have officers interacting with the younger kids, but for the young, black kids that we have out here to see officer Lewis out here it gives them something to look forward to, something to aspire to be.”

“Probably one of the things I’m most proud of on the job coming from one of the hardest things I’ve dealt with on the job,” Lewis said. “So, to have such a positive thing come out of a negative day is pretty nice.”

So nice in fact that Officer Lewis, who routinely makes the hour plus drive from his home in Amador County to attend practices and games, will, somewhat reluctantly, continue his efforts with basketball season starting up.

“I’ve got a pretty ugly jump shot, so I don’t know how much help I’ll be out there,” he said.

“That’s alright, we don’t need his jump shot. We just need his presence,” Brookins said. “Do what he’s been doing and bring his buddies with him, because when he shows up, it not only tells the kids and the parents, but the entire community that he cares. And sometimes, that’s the best thing you can do.”