'We're making entry,' the officers said as they entered the Borderline Bar & Grill

By Joe Vargas

Seems I’ve written a lot about mass shootings in the United States over the last few years, and it’s getting old. I don’t have a lot of answers because as long as there are evil people intent on doing others harm, for reasons few of us understand, I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen again and again.

In just about every mass shooting in the United States, law enforcement has responded the way they’ve been trained — that is, to enter quickly, aggressively and eliminate the threat. Few of us can imagine the decision-making that takes place in fractions of a second when police officers respond to these mass shootings.

A memorial outside the Borderline Bar and Grill for Ventura County Sgt. Ron Helus. Photo from Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page

It goes something like this: As soon as possible, get an entry team together and engage the suspect. You line up, guns drawn, and hope your tactics will work and, in the process, you won’t get killed or injured.

Ventura County Sgt. Ron Helus found himself in that position on Nov. 7, 2018, at around 11:23 p.m. One can only imagine the chaos Sgt. Helus and two California Highway Patrol officers encountered as they arrived on the scene that night: people running from the Borderline Bar & Grill, people bleeding, people injured and strewn about the area, the sound of gunshots echoing from inside, sirens approaching in the distance.

Every single person who saw those uniformed officers was looking to them to help save them. That’s exactly what they did. They didn’t wait, they did their best to save those they could by entering a building knowing they would encounter an armed gunman. The radio traffic that night was short and brief.

“We’re making entry,” the officers said as they went through the door.

Who does something like that? The answer is a person whose calling is stronger than their sense of self — someone who runs towards danger, not away from it.

Some insensitive cretins have commented, “Isn’t that what cops get paid to do?”

No, police officers don’t get paid to die. In fact, they do everything humanly possible to avoid it. In the end, it’s a sense of duty to the public that keeps police officers in the game when lives are at stake.

Sgt. Helus was a trained firearms instructor. He knew the dangers he was facing when he entered the Borderline Bar & Grill that night. But it didn’t matter. The need to rescue and help those he could pushed at every fiber of his being. At that moment, it was duty and his calling that made him go inside.

A memorial outside the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks. Photo from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page

What he didn’t know was he would be encountering a combat-trained veteran who had the tactical advantage of being able to lie in wait. Sgt. Helus was killed in the line of duty while trying to protect strangers and to save what lives he could.

Sgt. Helus will be remembered in a memorial service that will be attended by thousands. His sacrifice will be remembered always by those who served alongside him, his family, and those whose lives he saved. But it’s not just they who should remember, but all of us.

The Thousand Oaks Police Department / Ventura County Sheriff’s Office is collecting any cards, letters or care packages for the Borderline shooting victims at the Thousand Oaks Police Station.

Mailing address:

C/O The Thousand Oaks Police Department
2101 E. Olsen Road
Thousand Oaks, Ca 91360

Joe is a retired police captain. You can reach him at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com