LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — City officials will mark the 20th anniversary of the North Hollywood bank shootout, one of the most violent days in the history of Los Angeles.
A dozen officers and eight civilians were injured on Feb. 28, 1997, during a 44-minute gunbattle with two men carrying fully automatic assault rifles and protected by full body armor.
“Twenty years is a long time, but it doesn’t feel like 20 years. It feels like a lot less,” said retired LAPD Officer John Caprarelli, who exchanged gunfire with robbers Larry Phillips Jr. and Emil Matasareanu, who were killed in the gunbattle.
The day isn’t just remembered for the heroics of some of the outgunned officers, or the way the incident played out on live television, but also for how it forever changed law enforcement.
The men were better armed and prepared than the officers who responded, City Councilman Mitchell Englander said.
“That was a wakeup call,” he said. “Not only is this weaponry available to the mass market, but anybody can deploy it for any reason. So the (police) weaponry changed … the tactics and the training changed. Every law enforcement agency in the country changed in how to respond to those incidents.”
Phillips and Matasareanu had meticulously planned the armed robbery at the Bank of America branch at 6600 Laurel Canyon Blvd. for months, and had even calculated the expected LAPD response time by listening to police scanners. But they did not foresee that two police officers would happen to drive by and see them as they entered the bank.
By the time they left the bank eight minutes later, police had surrounded the building and the robbers immediately unloaded their illegally altered assault rifles, striking multiple officers.
In all, the robbers fired about 1,200 rounds at officers, civilians and even a police helicopter. But hundreds of officers converged to surround the area, preventing their escape. An injured Phillips took his own life, and Matasareanu surrendered but bled out at the scene.
Police in Los Angeles eventually became better equipped as a result of the shootout. If a similar situation were to happen today, one of the first officers responding would likely be armed with his or her own assault rifle.
“Not only are police more equipped, but the tactics deployed are all different, in like how to take cover to reduce risk to the officers and the general public,” said Englander, who is also a reserve officer with the LAPD and chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee.
Caprarelli and Englander were on hand for a shootout remembrance event Tuesday at the LAPD’s North Hollywood Division. Mayor Eric Garcetti, Police Commission President Matt Johnson, Chief Charlie Beck and Councilman Paul Krekorian also attended.
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