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Cover Story

LAPD Faces Urban Warfare In North Hollywood Bank Shoot-Out

Nationally televised gun battle pits hundreds of officers against two AK-47-wielding robbers for nearly an hour.

April 01, 1997  |  by Greg Meyer

Detective Gordon Hagge was one of the first officers on the scene of the shootout at the Bank of America that morning. He told the Los Angeles Time, "I'm in the wrong place with the wrong gun."

The reality of being outgunned became much worse when officers got a peek at their adversaries. Not just heavily armed bandits, but cool and calm Terminator- types who were dressed in full- body armor from their necks to their feel; commando- style robbers who were taking multiple hits from police small- arms fire and not even appearing to notice.

Sgt. Larry "Dean" Haynes, a16-year veteran assigned to the North Hollywood Division, was one of the first responders who engaged the suspects and watched as police bullets literally bounced off the body armor. As he was firing at the suspects, Haynes was wounded twice by AK-47 fire. When he say the first SWAT officer arriving near Haynes' position, "I felt like John Wayne had come," he told the Los Angeles Times."

"As soon as I saw that guy, I knew everything would be OK."

Lt. Nick Zingo was in charge at North Hollywood Division that morning. "When I first heard the automatic gunfire, and the officer- down calls were coming out," said Zingo, "I was sure that I had lost one or more of my people. Any watch commander knows that your worst fear is that one of your officers will be killed."

"And I was sure that it was happening to me."

Upon hearing that the location was the Bank of America, Zingo knew what he had. "We had been briefed about these robbers, seen videotapes of their prior bank takeover robberies. I knew they had killed a guard and that they first indiscriminately and that it was just a matter of time before somebody would confront these robbers. I knew that they had full body armor, and that we would have our hands full with these guys."

"I know what AK- 47s can do."

What the LAPD officers were up against were two armed robbers who had been tied to several other bank robberies and armored car robberies, including the murder of a guard.

Ultimately, both robbers were killed, one when confronted by three responding SWAT officers who heroically drove perilously close and engaged the suspect with SWAT's own fully automatic weapons.

At the time of this report (just a few days after the shoot-out), there was speculation that the other suspect may have taken his own life with a self-inflicted shot to the head with one of his several handguns after his AK-47 experienced a "stove-pipe" jam and officers were closing in.

But news reports shortly after that quoted the coroner's office spokesman as saying it would take several months before the cause of death could be confirmed.

Miraculously, of the 11 officers and six civilian bystanders who were injured, some by armor- piercing AK- 47 rounds, none were killed. Somebody was looking out for the "good guys" that day.

This gun battle will be one of the classics that is talked about and viewed in survival tactics fare in the face of what can only be described as unconventional urban warfare?

We usually think of, and train for, SWAT incidents with well- armed suspects as "barricaded suspects" in a bank or a house of other fixed locations. Even extreme cases featuring heavy automatic gunfire like the Symbionese Liberation Army shoot- out in Los Angeles back in 1974, occurred at a fixed location.

In the North Hollywood bank shoot- out, the initial patrol officers and the SWAT officers who arrived on the scene from the Police Academy in the middle of their daily workout- some of them still wearing their gym shorts- were faced with an entirely unconventional tactical situation: a running gun battle over several blocks with suspects who simply would not go down no matter how many times they were hit.

"It's not supposed to happen like this," said Lt. Zingo.

Tags: North Hollywood Bank Robbery, LAPD, Active Shooters


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