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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

In 1997, there were several manufacturers that produced AR-15 rifles. Colt was the primary supplier to the U.S. military and a household name in the law enforcement community. Omaha police were authorized to carry the Colt and three others. In 2012, the firearms industry is awash with AR-15 builders and most of the weapons they produce are well made and street ready.  

The full-length AR-15 with a fixed stock and 20-inch barrel has lost the popularity contest to the adjustable-stock, 16-inch barreled AR-15 carbine. The carbines are better suited for maneuvering in and out of a patrol car. They're easier to use in doors and at close quarters. And they're lighter. 

The AR-15 was an offshoot of the AR-10, the innovative infantry rifle designed by Eugene Stoner in 1955 while he was the chief engineer at ArmaLite.

Stoner used a direct gas impingement system, meaning that gas from a fired round acts directly on the bolt carrier assembly via a gas tube in the upper receiver.

More recently, piston-driven ARs have entered the patrol rifle race. In this system, the gas acts upon the piston upfront at the gas block to drive the bolt carrier. Gas and other residue never reach the receiver and fire control components to cause carbon fouling. The piston-drive system runs cleaner—a strong benefit in harsh field conditions. Of the 20 rifles in a class I taught this past month, five were piston driven. Only time will tell whether it supplants the direct gas impingement method of operation. 

As the years passed, more players have entered the patrol rifle arena. Officers have been known to use the FN FS2000, a reliable bullpup rifle chambered in 5.56mm; Steyr AUG; SIG 556, HK G36 or G36K; and the Ruger Mini-14.

Troy Industries BUIS rear sight. Photo: Bob Parker
Troy Industries BUIS rear sight. Photo: Bob Parker

The tried-and-true AR platform now rules the patrol rifle domain. From the butt stock to flash suppressor, the AR-15 is arguably the most customized and accessorized fighting rifle in the world.

Most butt stocks are adjustable for length of pull with four and six positions becoming the norm. Some have storage compartments. Others arrive in a precision rifle configuration. Pistol grips come in a multitude of shapes and sizes. Officers can configure the rifle with an assortment of charging handles, ambidextrous safeties, triggers, and differently sized trigger guards.

It was once difficult to remove the AR hand guard with the heavy spring in the delta (slip) ring. Then came the hand-guard removal tool (HRT). Instead of a standard two-piece AR-15 hand guard, officers now use quad rails, tri rails, and partial rails. Picatinny rails accommodate almost any accessory you can think of—lights, vertical fore grips, and night-vision devices. 

If you don't like the flash suppressor that came from the factory, there are a plethora of aftermarket supressors that effectively reduce the muzzle signature of patrol rifles with short barrels. Some even come with "teeth" that can be used for pain compliance or other tasks.

In 1997, iron sights were the norm, and the rear sight was attached to the AR-15 "carry handle." Electronic, red-dot, eyes wide-open sighting devices are now found on a great number of patrol rifles. Many of these are robust, Mil-Spec pieces that can take a whole lot of abuse and still function on the street. Officers can more quickly acquire targets with these electronic reticles in dim-light and quick-moving Close Quarters Battle scenarios. Electronic sights should be used with co-witness backup iron sights (BUIS) to give you a redundant system.

The verticle fore-grip, whether in polymer or aluminum, has become another popular add-on. Several have storage compartments.

As for slings, the older military style was a two-point sling with swivels on the bottom of the butt and under the front sight tower. Three point slings were hot for a while, then single-point had its day. Lately, it's been back to a tactical two-point setup that eliminates some to the sway and swing caused by the single-point system.

Ammunition manufacturers provide a glut of choices in 5.56mm (or the similar .223 Remington) for law enforcement, including general-purpose patrol rounds, barrier penetrators, long range, and even Zombie rounds for future threats. With so many variables involved in a firefight, terminal ballistics of some rounds don't meet the shooter's expectations.

In many agencies, the 44 minutes in North Hollywood brought about the issuance of patrol rifles as well as improved tactical training for patrol officers. It wasn't just a matter of learning to shoot the new weapon platform. It involved "shooting, moving and communicating." Street cops would be able to stand and fight on their own rather than waiting for SWAT.

The landscape has changed in the past 15 years, yet the inherint dangers of police work remain unchanged. In the aftermath of North Hollywood, naysayers said the massive shootout was a once-in-hundred-year event. The past 15 years have shown us how these events are becoming more common. On duty, if you get into a deadly force confrontation, with just your pistol, use it to fight your way back to the rifle you should have brought to the fight in the first place.

Bob Parker is the Patrol Section chair for the NTOA. He is also a former Omaha PD SWAT commander.

Related:

The North Hollywood Bank Robbery (podcast)

5 Gunfights That Changed Law Enforcement

Communicate, Move, Shoot

LAPD Faces Urban Warfare In North Hollywood Bank Shoot-Out

«   Page 2 of 2   »

Tags: North Hollywood Bank Robbery, LAPD, Patrol Rifles, NTOA, AR-Type Rifles, Gun Battles, Omaha (Neb.) PD


Comments (22)

Displaying 1 - 22 of 22

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 SWAT...in 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 Greg....you 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 http://www.northhollywoodshootout.com/ 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 .

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zg8jevcB4ww&feature=youtu.be

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?

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