For the first time in more than four decades, a new Lodi police chief is being hired from outside the department.
Capt. Mark Helms of the Stockton Police Department will be Lodi's next chief, Lodi City Manager Rad Bartlam announced Friday.
"It's a privilege for me to be able to hire someone with Captain Helms' caliber and depth of experience. He has all the qualifications we were looking for in a chief and more," Bartlam stated in a news release.
The Lodi City Council still has to approve Helms' contract. He is scheduled to start in the department's highest position sometime this summer.
"This is a wonderful opportunity I couldn't pass up," Helms stated. "It's a big decision to leave an organization like the Stockton Police Department, but I can't tell you how honored I am Mr. Bartlam chose me."
The 47-year-old will replace interim Police Chief Ray Samuels, who started in March.
Helms said he is prepared to make a five-year commitment to the position.
Helms graduated from Tokay High School and has worked with the Lodi Police Department before. After Lodi officer Rick Cromwell died on duty in December 1998, Helms developed traffic plans for Cromwell's funeral. Then-Chief Larry Hansen, who is now a council member, named him an honorary sergeant for his work.
Helms started with the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office in 1984 before being hired a year later with Stockton's department.
He worked his way up through sergeant, lieutenant and captain positions, until he was in charge of the North Stockton police substation with a staff of 120 members. Helms oversaw the effort to move half of the police force into the new building.
"It was a massive undertaking," Helms said. "We had to make major adjustments in the way we deployed people, and establish a new culture. Even though it is the same police department, it is a standalone facility."
Since 2003, he has led the Field Services, Investigations and Administrative Services Bureau, and helped oversee patrol, traffic, detectives, gang enforcement, personnel, training, crime prevention, code enforcement and graffiti abatement. Although Helms served as Stockton's deputy chief of police for several years, his position was reclassified as captain to save costs.
"I try to consider myself pretty well-rounded and a generalist," Helms said. "I always had the mindset that I wanted to learn more, and take on more duties and responsibilities."
He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and the State Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training's Law Enforcement Community College. He holds a bachelor's degree in management from St. Mary's College and a master's degree in public administration from California State University, Stanislaus.
Helms resides in Stockton with his wife of 16 years and three children. While he said he plans to continue living in Stockton for now, he didn't rule out a move to Lodi at some point. Although activities with his family keep him busy, Helms said he enjoys cabinetry and woodworking in his free time.
The hiring process
Bartlam was out of town Friday and could not be reached for comment on the hiring. However, city spokesman Jeff Hood said Bartlam "labored" over the decision and process, which began in March.
For the past four decades, Hansen said, Lodi has hired chiefs from inside the department. The choice to select Helms was a difficult decision for Bartlam because there was a strong inside candidate, Hansen said.
"It's difficult when you have two really qualified candidates. ... As a City Council member, except for the city manager, the city attorney and the city clerk, I have no say in hiring. I'm going to support (Bartlam's) decision," he said.
Helms gave six separate interviews for the position and was screened by several panels, including one made up of citizens. The process was very thorough, Helms said.
"They didn't want to know just what kind of cop you are, but what kind of leader you are and track record you have," he said.
Details still to come
The details of Helms' contract, including pay and benefits, are still being finalized, said Hood. The contract will be finalized before heading to the City Council for approval. The council should decide on whether or not to approve the hiring in July, he said.
Lodi Police Officers Association President Paul Blandford said he has not yet met the new chief.
"We look forward to meeting him and establishing a working relationship," Blandford said.
In his 40 years as either police chief or a council member, Hansen said this is the most challenging time to lead the police department.
"He's definitely going to have to find ways to do more with less — less people and less money for his budget," Hansen said.
Police forces around California are facing financial hardship, Helms said, but the situation is still manageable.
"You have to become more efficient and find ways to do the same work in less time," he said.