Twenty years ago today and roughly 3000 miles away from where I’m currently attending college, two masked men walked into a bank and start one of the most influential events in police weapons and tactics since the 1986 FBI Miami Shootout. In all honesty, I didn’t even realize the anniversary until I saw Breach-Bang-Clear’s article on it. For the major changes it started, it amazes me that the event isn’t more widely talked about.
If you haven’t heard of the 1997 North Hollywood robbery and shootout, I’m not that surprised. Long story short, two bank robbers walked into a bank with body armor, fully automatic weapons, and several drum magazines worth of ammunition. They had very carefully planned everything, but it fell apart when two LAPD officers saw them entering the bank and called the robbery in well before the two shooters had expected. You can read about the details in the Wikipedia article about it, but it wasn’t quite the horrible tragedy that some other events were. While twelve police officers and eight civilians were injured, the only two fatalities were the perpetrators, and not many people mourn the loss of homicidal criminals. So yes, it’s easy to not hear much about the event, but it’s hard to not notice some of the changes that were implemented after the bullets stopped flying.
One of the most significant changes brought about by this shootout, or perhaps any recent shooting event, was to the gear and weapons that police carry. The perpetrators wore level IIIA armor that was able to stop the common police duty rounds at the time. Massively outgunned by drum fed, illegally modified, fully automatic AK rifles, some police officers resorted to a local gun store for a firearm that could defeat the assailants’ armor. It was only after the shooting that patrol officers began to be issued rifles or carbines to supplement their duty handguns.
In addition to the increase in firepower that was triggered by this event, there was also a focus on saving the lives of officers injured on the job. While none died from their wounds, twelve officers were injured by the shooters and were lucky to survive. Medical theory at the time suggested that use of a tourniquet was an absolute last resort for hemorrhage control, and individual first aid kits were not widely issued. In the years since the shootout first aid has become a major focus during these types of events, and the order of actions to control bleeding has seen a drastic overhaul. At the EMS conference I attended this past weekend the most recent standing orders for major hemorrhage are now direct pressure, with tourniquets as an immediate next step should pressure alone not be enough.
While it may not be the type of hugely iconic event that gets made into hit movies, the North Hollywood shootout has had tremendous impact on active shooter response by police. Instead of elevating limbs and finding pressure points while returning fire with a handgun, police are able to use an AR-15 to neutralize the threat and then apply a CAT tourniquet, effectively reducing further loss of life.
While some may argue against the “militarization of police” or question the need for expensive medical gear, it is important to learn from previous experience and be willing to make changes.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”