Imagine yourself working uniformed patrol at 9:15 a.m. on a warm sunny day and you suddenly find yourself in Beirut, Bosnia, or back in the Mekong Delta. You go from thinking about where you'll stop for the next cup of coffee, to having your black-and-white shot up with full automatic AK-47 rounds.
Within the new few minutes, officers and civilians all about you are shot down in the street by bank robbers who look like Ninja Turtles dressed to kill. And unlike the usual "gun battle" that lasts a few seconds, this time the shooting just keeps going, and going, and going...
Such was the nightmare faced- and heroically overcome- by the men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department and the people of North Hollywood, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 28, 1997.
Officer Loren Farell, a nine-year veteran, and his partner officer Martin Perello, who has served for 18 months, made the initial observation of the bank robbery in progress while on patrol. Farell was writing in his administrative log while Perello drove and scanned the area closely as they cruised by the Bank of America. Perello casually looked over at the bank's doorway as they passed. "It's the busiest bank in the division."
"You always look at the door. It's just a routine thing to do," said Farell.
What happened next was anything but routine.
"My partner yelled '211,' our code for robbery," recalled Farell.
"Martin said there's two guys dressed like Ninja Turtles pushing a hostage into the bank. I looked up from my log and saw the rifles. I picked up my radio and called for assistance."
The officers deployed and took a tactical position of cover, about 15 feet apart from each other. When fully automatic weapons fire started coming from the bank, it pinned Farell and Perello down in their positions for a long time.
Officers responding to the assistance call were at great peril, and several were cut down by gunfire as the suspects sprayed their weapons at everything that moved.
"My partner's been shot!"
"Officer needs help!"
"We need an ambulance!"
The police radio screamed the emergency in many voices. Moments later, another officer made virtually the same report. Then another. And another.
What do you do? As you return fire from your 9mm semiautomatic and try to maintain a position of cover- as if there is much cover from armor piercing AK-47 rounds spilling from 100- round magazines- the reality sets in: You brought a cap- gun to World War III.