event that took place in February 28th 1997. A series of bank robberies
culminated in quite possibly the most violent shootout in modern American
police history. The lives of 36 patrons and 12 employees were endangered
when two heavily armed men wearing body armor decided to rob the Bank of
America in North Hollywood. Seen entering the bank by Los Angeles police
officers, the two men intimidated employees and patrons by firing shots
inside while not realizing that Los Angeles police officers were surrounding
the building. As they left the bank, the robbers became aware of their
predicament and began shooting at police and civilians.
Three civilians and nine officers were shot within the first five minutes of the shootout, and a total of 350 officers were called to the scene. As police bullets bounced off the suspects, it became evident that the two men were wearing body armor and had out-gunned the police with their armor piercing bullets and semiautomatic weapons. A total of seven civilians and eleven LAPD officers were injured. Despite the overwhelming odds, many heroic officers, while in grave danger, initiated officer and citizen rescues as the suspects continued to exchange shots with other officers. The suspects fired more than 1,100 rounds from their semiautomatic assault rifles. Eventually, one suspect committed suicide and members of the LAPD SWAT team shot and killed the other.
According to Commander Scott LaChasse of the Los Angeles Police Department's (LAPD) Criminal Intelligence Group and Lt. Tom Runyan, Commanding Officer of the LAPD SWAT, during the shootout at the bank, the suspects fired an estimated 1,110 rounds from three fully automatic AK-47s, a .223 fully automatic Bushmaster rifle, a .308 semiautomatic H&K and a semiautomatic 9mm Beretta handgun. One squad car sustained 57 hits. A sidewalk kiosk, used for cover by officers on the scene, was perforated with 150 bullets.
After the shooting stopped, more than 2,000
live rounds were found in the suspects' vehicle. Drums loaded with additional
ammunition were found on the suspects' bodies. Eleven police officers were
injured. One officer went down in an exposed area. He was in jeopardy of
execution until another officer, defying incoming rounds, drove a squad
car to the downed officer and rescued him. Fortunately, none of the officers
|The following is the chronology of the incident:|
|0900 PST - LAPD receive
a bank robbery alarm at the Bank of America branch on Laurel Canyon Boulevard
in North Hollywood.
0938 PST - Two heavily armed men wearing ski masks emerge from the bank.
0951 PST - One gunman fires at officers and uses the getaway car as cover in the bank parking lot. At the street he leaves the cover of the car. He continues to fire at police and television news helicopters. He is shot in the head and killed.
0952 PST - The second suspect leaves the bank parking lot in the getaway car and drives into a residential neighborhood.
0956 PST - The gunman stops at a pickup truck, in which a wise civilian has abandoned during the incident. The suspect begins to transfer weapons from the car to the truck and gets in. Brave police officers approach, he gets out and there is a fierce firefight. The suspect is fatally wounded by officers.
1100 PST - The LAPD announces that the two suspects have been killed. Police continue to search for any additional bank robbers.
2300 PST - Search
for any other suspects is called off.
This incident, if reviewed with an eye toward "social" significance and recent law enforcement history in mind, is also an example of long held beliefs and traditional law enforcement concepts that are always under attack, but have been validated as the right way to train the police, because of this shooting.
In order to evaluate this shooting with
clarity, it is necessary to separate the significant issues and learning
points by category. As the bank robbery was discovered by alert patrol
officers, this analysis will begin with the category of initial response.
An assessment of weaponry used by the police as well as those used by the
suspects will follow. As review of the body armor issues from the armor
worn by the police to the armor worn by the suspects will occur. Following
the armor review, an inspection of the response and actions of the Los
Angeles Police SWAT team will be done. Finally, a discussion of the long
term significance of this incident and how it may change law enforcement
for the better will follow.
As the robbers exited the bank, they were ordered to "freeze, drop your guns!" The robbers opened up on the patrol officers and the citizens in the community with a barrage of .223 and .308 gunfire both semi-automatic and full automatic. It was obvious to the officers that they were being shot at and wounded by a barrage of heavy weapons fire. This weapons fire was also wounding citizens trapped behind cars, proned out in streets and parking lots, fleeing on foot and in vehicles from the area. It was also obvious that the police were not going away. Although the officers were outgunned and out equipped, the patrol containment was complete, remained steadfast, and would not let the heavily armed suspects leave. There was a heavy price to pay for this bravery and devotion to duty.
The initial observation and rapid deployment was accomplished through professional fundamental training. There is no question that cover and concealment aided officers in reducing the number that were wounded, but the incredible level of violence that was directed at the police and the sheer volume of gunfire that the suspects directed at the officers over a long period of time speaks volumes about their quality and performance of the patrol officers.
As the suspects fled the bank and began their murderous full automatic assault rifle attack on the patrol officers, it was apparent that they were attempting to breach an escape route through the uniformed containment. The fact that a large number of officers were able to respond and deploy was a big component of a brave effort to hold the suspects at the bank.
Large departments have an advantage in the availability of large numbers of officers to respond. The LAPD had approximately 15 patrol officers deployed around all four sides of the bank as the suspects exited. Small agencies must work together to ensure that similar crimes that are predictably going to happen to them have a multi-agency response that replicates a large agency activation. If only four or five officers were on scene at the North Hollywood Bank of America, the suspects would have breached containment the suspects would have been able to concentrate focus and gunfire on more specific targets.
Several years ago, a similar robbery in
the community of Norco, California, created a shootout of parallel dimensions.
Five suspects with assault rifles and explosives robbed the bank in Norco
and fled. They shot eleven police officers, killing one, and shot down
a police helicopter during a pursuit that lasted for over an hour. Eventually
all suspects were captured or killed, but the cost was high.
The single most important component of
the SWAT response to this shooting was the ability of the responding SWAT
officers to go directly to the scene with all of the necessary weaponry
and body armor. The fact that the LAPD SWAT officers carry all of their
equipment with them while on duty, as well as taking it home on regular
days off, allowed for response without a time consuming delay for issuance
of weapons and equipment. The LAPD SWAT officers were also able to select
appropriate weapons because they have the choice in their car of MP5s,
M26s, Shotguns, H&K .223 caliber assault rifles and AR 15s. They learned
long ago that certain weapons are needed for specific tactical functions.
MP5s are a fine weapon, but are not the best choice for the situation confronting
LAPD SWAT on this day. It is essential that SWAT officers have weapons
available with them, and that they have the choice of weapons and ammunition
to match the tactical problem.
Safariland's distributor in San Diego,
Don Hacklander, regularly demonstrates the safety and ease of the urban
rifle by taking a police academy's poorest shooting cadet and in 15 minutes
having that cadet shooting 50 yard head shots. This simplicity of training,
citizen safety through accuracy, and low cost can only be achieved through
an urban rifle such as the Ruger 9MM or 40 S&W. Agencies large and
small should consider deployment of this weapon, not as a replacement for
the shotgun, because it can't, but as an enhancement of officer capability
and accuracy which it can.
When the final suspect surrendered, wounded citizens were scattered throughout the area. Wounded police officers were lying in parking lots and the street. Both the citizens and the police were a priority for two important reasons. First, they come before suspects when there is a "waiting list" for medical attention. Second, the police and EMT personnel did not know if Martasaurano was in possession of explosives or was "booby-trapped." Based upon the suspect's actions and appearance, these concerns were very real. Only when a suspect is rendered safe and can be searched safely can medical aid be risked.
Police training and the foremost experts recommend extreme caution, and response to citizens and officers first, under the circumstances that confronted the LAPD SWAT team. The National Tactical Officers Association's Tactical Emergency Medical Section has trained hundreds of officers to respond just as the LAPD SWAT team did. Medical doctors familiar with this kind of tactical medical emergency would and have endorsed the actions of the LAPD SWAT team.
Finally, as a former member of the LAPD SWAT team, I want to extend my congratulations to the brave patrol officers as well as to SWAT for a job well done.
Text by Ron
McCarthy, Armor Specialist/Tactics Instructor
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