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How the North Hollywood Shootout Changed Patrol Arsenals

The shootout gave law enforcement a compelling reason to better arm patrol officers with semi-automatic rifles.

February 28, 2012  |  by Bob Parker - Also by this author

A 2012 AR-15 patrol rifle now comes with a 1913 quadrail, back-up iron sights, co-witnessed optic, vertical foregrip, QD sling swivels, and proprietary flash hider. Photo: Bob Parker
A 2012 AR-15 patrol rifle now comes with a 1913 quadrail, back-up iron sights, co-witnessed optic, vertical foregrip, QD sling swivels, and proprietary flash hider. Photo: Bob Parker

Fifteen years ago, on Feb. 28, 1997, Los Angeles police officers engaged in one of the fiercest gun battles in modern U.S. law enforcement history. The failed bank robbery and firefight that followed during the 44 minutes from 9:17 to 10:01 a.m. would forever alter the way police agencies arm, equip, and train patrol officers.

The setting for what became known as the North Hollywood Shootout was a Bank of America branch on Laurel Canyon Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley community patrolled by the Los Angeles Police Department.

Two seasoned bank and armored car robbers—Larry Eugene Phillips, Jr. and Emil Matasareanu—planned to spend a few minutes in the bank to steal about $300,000. The plan went sideways when two LAPD patrol officers spotted them entering the bank. Phillips and Matasareanu were not your typical bank customers on this sunny Friday morning. They were dressed in black coveralls and ski masks. They were bulked up by 40 pounds of body armor and carried select-fire Kalashnikov rifles, handguns, an HK-91, and fully auto AR-15.

Rather than hold the bank employees and customers hostage or harm them, Phillips and Matasareanu grabbed the duffle bag of stolen money and exited the bank in an attempt to escape. That's when the firefight commenced.  Almost 2,000 rounds later, the battle ended. Twelve cops and eight civilians had been injured. The two bank robbers were dead.

At that time, patrol cops' basic armament consisted of semi-automatic pistols and 12-gauge shotguns. While this wasn't the first time patrol officers had been outgunned by professional criminals, patrol officers had never before been engaged in such a protracted, high-intensity firefight.

The battle played out on live television. Ground-level and aerial views from the TV cameras made it clear that America's street cops were facing a much more dangerous criminal element with body armor and military-level arms. The bad guys were seemingly immune to the anemic effects of pistols and shotguns, while laying down a withering fusillade of fire against LAPD officers and detectives.

The shootout gave law enforcement a compelling reason to better arm patrol officers with semi-automatic rifles.

A month later, the chief of the Omaha (Neb.) Police Department asked its SWAT commander to write a position paper outlining the need and justification of arming our patrol personnel with intermediate (5.56x45mm) rifles. With the backing of the chief and a strong-willed deputy chief who always remembered the streets from where he came, the department graduated its first patrol rifle class in November of 1997.

The author carried a Colt Model 6721 patrol rifle in 1997. Photo: Bob Parker.
The author carried a Colt Model 6721 patrol rifle in 1997. Photo: Bob Parker.

All 20 students in that 1997 class carried Colt AR-15s with 16- or 20-inch barrels. Only iron sights were authorized for duty use. The only accessory authorized was a weapon-mounted light. The shooters used a standard two-point sling.

These officers were required to purchase their own rifles, 1,000 rounds of ammunition for the four-day class, and duty ammunition. The department had no money in the budget to purchase this equipment. At the same time, the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) set up a patrol rifle class using the Omaha PD's patrol rifle program as a matrix. We conducted the first NTOA patrol rifle class at the NTOA Tactical Operations Conference in Dayton, Ohio, in 1998.

This new patrol weapon leveled the playing field. It enable greater accuracy, and gave officers a high-capacity magazine. As a relatively lightweight carbine or rifle, the AR-15 enables a patrol officer to engage targets at a longer distance and its rounds penetrate most body armor. With the right ammunition, the 5.56mm projectile doesn't over-penetrate as much as certain pistol rounds. And lastly, a semi-auto patrol rifle is much easier to operate than a 12-gauge police shotgun for most personnel.

Comments (23)

Displaying 1 - 23 of 23

Frank @ 2/28/2012 7:08 PM

A shootout that could have been a movie set. LEO's out gunned. LEO's today, still out gunned!

Steve @ 2/28/2012 8:52 PM

I know some departments that still do not allow their patrol officers to carry rifles or shotgun when on patrol!

China Spring @ 2/28/2012 9:41 PM

They should, Steve. Which ones are they? <><

DaveSAM25G @ 2/28/2012 10:43 PM

All should be trained and have a rifle especially so today - What good is it for the Sgt to only have or this case even with cover and distance outgunned thankfully were able to adapt thinking on feet...Also, be aware of placements perimeters outer inner by tools available (Firearms)!

Greg @ 2/29/2012 3:52 AM

It really wasn't so much the police were outgunned, they were either poorly trainied or ignored it. Vests not worn, trying to stop heavily armed bad guys in a neighborhood and poor shooting.

If I remember correctly, the local gun store owner who "loaned" some AR-15s during all this stop was prosecuted by the BATF...he never had the police fill out the required paperwork when he released the weapons to them.

I don't believe it's so much being undergunned as having to be careful when bullets go downrange. Lowlifes don't care where they shoot, they don't have to worry about collateral damage...we do, citizens and police alike. Gives them an edge no matter what both parties are shooting.

A.J. @ 2/29/2012 4:16 AM

I am a rifle instructor for my agency and I tell this story to my students the first day of every week long school. We too started out with pistols and shotguns. Our program was created in 1999 with a handful of personally owned guns. Today we have over 140 rifles deployed for a police force of about 425 sworn officers.

Kyle @ 2/29/2012 6:52 AM

Great article. I've got 15yrs on the job and I am still amazed at how many of the biggest LE innovations in that time come as a result of tragedy. We didnt get patrol rifles until North Hollywood. We didnt get Rapid Deployment/Active Shooter until Columbine. We didnt get TASER until we were shooting a lot of people, many died, that we could have taken alive if some form of less lethal (bean bags, pepperball, tactical sharp wooden poking stick) was available to patrol and not just SWAT. It took the 1986 Miami FBI shootout just to get the gears rolling to transition from revolvers to semi-auto's....I just think it's interesting we are never allowed to be proactive in tactics and equipment development, always reactive. Just my humble opinion.....

Tbow426 @ 2/29/2012 8:06 AM

Not sure where Greg got his misinformation. LAPD responded professionally, responsibly and most of all...with bravery!!!! The bad guys initiated contact and officers made good hits on the perps with shotgun and handgun rounds. Look at the footage and you can see multiple good hits that have no effect. Soft body armor that patrol officers were wearing did not not offer any protection against the rifle rounds being fired by the perps. Listen to the radio traffic and tell me those officers were poorly trained!! Officers layed their lives on the line and ran into a hail of fire to rescue injured brother and sister officers as well as civilians!!! The dispatcher talking on the radio to a wounded officer is one of the most compelling things I have ever heard. Her calm voice and reasuring words in all that chaos is remarkable!!!!! So can take your comments and shove them. By the way, the gun store owner was not prosecuted. Urban myth.

Frank @ 2/29/2012 1:24 PM

LAPD did an outstanding job! A perfect setup is a .45 caliber pistol. The only problem is some LEO's can't handle the weapon for many reasons, size, recoil and general marksman issues. That why most departments train/carry with Glocks! Shotgun 12 ga with slugs. An AR-15 in .223 with a spare upper receiver in 6.5 or 338.

Lynn Caprarelli @ 2/29/2012 1:30 PM

If you are interested in the "REAL" story, can I point you to my husband's just released book, Uniform Decisions: My Life in the LAPD and the North Hollywood Shootout. It's available in Police Mag's bookstore and the podcast is online in Police Mag's podcast section. Thanks!

Leonard Mather @ 2/29/2012 3:16 PM

Watch out for the Wimps and Wussies who call upon ACLU, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to attempt to foil any and all attempts to gain advantage over the Perps. It is their nature and purpose in life of the former to claim interference of civil liberties, cruel and unusual punishment, unfairness and related rhetoric aimed at nullifying the effectiveness of LEOs.

Capt David-Ret LA County @ 2/29/2012 5:32 PM

I will buy Uniform Decisions! When I started in the early 60's, our arsenal of weapons were 30-30 with saddle rings, Rising .45 that jammed every 5th round and a .35 cal semiauto rifle, that jammed every 2nd round but things changed. Many deputies would pull out of the station and go to the parking lot, retrieve their own 30/06 or 30 cal carbine or Ruger 44 mag rifle to even things up a bit. The problem is many big cities may have these weapons at their disposal, they are not in the trunk of the street cop's unit. Not sure how LAPD or LASD work these days but when you need the .30 cal rifle you got to wait til someone brings it, or until SWAT comes out. If every LAPD officer had even a .223 I know things would have been very different.

Rene @ 2/29/2012 6:49 PM

Anyone think todays armed robbery at a Chino CA. Bank today had anything to do with the anniversary? What do you guys think?

DM @ 3/1/2012 5:30 AM

Frank, what are you talking about, "Perfect setup?" makes you sound like an aspiring armchair gun writer. I am sure there are LEO's who cant handle a .45, but that has nothing to do with why departments choose Glock. In case you hadn't heard, Glock produces 3 pistols in .45 ACP, and these pistols are about half the price (1/2 to 2/3) of Sig pistols; so when you are outfitting a department, that savings is huge. I would bet that most of the LEO's out there do not get the opportunity to select their duty weapon or caliber, but get what the department gives them. These choices are, for the most part, made without evaluating each individual officer's skill level, it is a management decision based on multiple factors such as: cost, ammunition cost, probability of the entire officer population being able to fit/shoot the pistol, political considerations (the big evil .44 magnum like Dirty Harry had) and additional factors like policy, training, etc. I carry a great pistol, but as a former SWAT guy and senior firearms instructor for the agency, I might select something different, but it would not be appropriate for 99% of the rank and file because of the difference in the amount of shooting we do. Shooting is a skill that can be learned, and has to be maintained; but this is difficult to do with today's budgets.

As to the AR-15, are you suggesting giving patrol officers a single shot .338 Lapua upper because as far as I can tell there is no way to get .338 rounds through an AR-15 mag well? As a trainer I would say that for a patrol officer, expecting them to carry two complete sets of gear (one for each caliber) and get comfortable with the POA/POI difference for the two, not to mention the cost of a 50? round qual with the Lapua every couple months for each officer at a cost of approximately $95 per 20 rounds would make this prohibitive for departments even if every single officer was an outstanding marksman.

The one thing in

Iain @ 3/1/2012 8:06 PM

I agree with Tbow426, LAPD did a great job ! I could only hope to have officers at an incident in my town, go as well as this, could have been much worse. I hope Greg knows soft body armor won't help him against 7.62 (x39 or x51) rounds.

c803 @ 3/7/2012 7:32 AM

LEO community was slow to learn. I recently learned and read about the bank robbery/pursuit/gun battle in Norco, California, that occurred 17 years before the North Hollywood shootout; May 9,1980. Here, too, the LEOs responded professionally and heroically when facing high-powered automatic rifles and homemade explosives with only shotguns and .38 revolvers! Glad so many departments are equipping their warriors with patrol rifles!

Steve E @ 3/21/2012 6:31 PM

Lee Mindham is the site owner of He has investigated and personally interviewed many of the LAPD officers on the scene of the 'No Ho Shootout. Outside of the FBI and LAPD his is the most comprehensive 'fact' finding in depth investigation and site available on the subject.

LIUETENANT @ 3/24/2012 3:52 AM

Due to the increasing active shooter calls and the amount of weapons available to suspects, ALL patrol cars should be equipped with a long gun (5.56), a rifle strike plate with carrier and a Kevlar helmet. There are programs that can furnish all these items at little or no cost to the department. However, one of the struggles in acquiring these items can be convincing the elder regime that these items are necessary before an incident occurs. I am a SWAT Operator and I agree that long guns need to be available and the patrol officer trained to utilize these weapons systems.

Steve E @ 3/25/2012 1:21 PM

FINALLY a professionally edited video of the entire shootout, were by all videos from all angels have been spliced together to 'flow' without fluff or hyperbole , along with every known interview with the officers involved .

Tim Beamer @ 5/5/2012 2:34 PM

I've been on the job for 23 years and have watched the actual video coverage of the North Hollywood shoot out numerous times since it happened. While its easy to say or think would you would have done if you were there,its a whole different world when the rounds are going past your head while you're down range. One thought that may have came to mind would've been getting one of the Crown Vics or Caprices and just try to run the one shooter over with the cars. Had it been attempted and worked Im sure the question of excessive force would have came up. But as I said before being on the scene of an incident of that magnitude can only be felt and described by the officers that were there.

Brearbear @ 12/28/2012 8:44 PM

To me the Police, Military, Fire Department, and Ambulance personnel, our my absolute heroes in my life.
My thoughts are with you, that you may always be safe.
I wish our forces had more money, even greater training and equipment.
I watched a man die here, in B.C., Canada, watched as each of 4 bullets ripped into his stomach.
Please remember there are many, many people like me, whom, although only a civilian, are on your side, and would at a minutes notice, do everything in our power to help in anyway we can!
I am untrained in hand guns, but can kick ass with a rifle.
God bless North America!
Be safe Mighty Warrior Heroes!

Brearbear, B.C. Canada

Dec. 2012

carolyn @ 6/7/2013 3:11 PM

do you think it should be harder for civilians to obtain automatic weapons and large clips?

Don @ 8/23/2015 11:37 AM

It's very hard for civilians to obtain fully automatic weapons already and seeing as you called them clips and not magazines, I'm guessing you know very little about firearms already. The gunmen in this video were hit numerous times by police. They were heavily armored and on mood calming narcotics that kept them calm and kept their adrenaline under control.

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