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Cops of today have high-powered rifles because of a 1997 shootout in North Hollywood




A Los Angeles Police Department armored personnel carrier maneuvers down Victory Boulevard, Friday, Feb. 28, 1997 in the North Hollywood section of Los Angeles. Police broke up a blotched bank robbery with a group of men dressed like commandos. (AP Photo/Michael Tweed)
A Los Angeles Police Department armored personnel carrier maneuvers down Victory Boulevard, Friday, Feb. 28, 1997 in the North Hollywood section of Los Angeles. Police broke up a blotched bank robbery with a group of men dressed like commandos. (AP Photo/Michael Tweed)
Michael Tweed

44 minutes.

That's how long a shootout lasted 20 years ago in North Hollywood between two attempted bank robbers and police.

2000 bullets.

That's how many rounds were exchanged.

The two culprits died in the battle of North Hollywood. More than a dozen officers and bystanders were injured, too.

But the aftermath lasted for years. Police departments throughout the country looked at the event and radically changed how they armed some officers.

That because the ones in North Hollywood were seriously outmatched.

The two robbers were equipped with illegally modified, high-powered rifles that could stream out rapid-fire shots at police. They also wore homemade body armor, and officers' handguns and shotguns had little chance of piercing that protection.

Afterwards, the LAPD and other departments in the nation took the steps to better equip officer with firearms that had more power at a farther distance.

NBC investigative reporter Andrew Blankstein covered the shootout when he was a young reporter for the LA Times.

From what you saw, did the police look like they were not prepared to handle something like this?

It was the post-Rodney King era, and there were debates about how much weapons or force the police should have.

Mostly specialized units had what we think of today as semi-automatic rifles that have a range and power to be able to drop somebody even at a distance.

Back then, [police] had a .38 special revolver or a 9-mm handgun. They didn't have the power to stop at range.

A lot of officers now carry .45 caliber handgun and so not only do they have the ability to stop somebody in a crime-in-progress, but you can do it at least from a distance.

Here, [they] was really no match for two people. It was almost like holding off a potential army with the guns that they had.

What changed for the LAPD after this?

There was a push to get these semi-automatic rifles into more officers' hands.

At one point, during the shootout, [officers] ended up going into a gun store and getting as many of these weapons as they could. ...

This event was one of those things that people kind of realized the dangers that were out there.

There was this support for the department. You certainly saw a push.

And what officers had been arguing at that point was that they had been outmatched by street gangs.

How did other police departments throughout the country use the North Hollywood shootout as an example?

It certainly had an effect on the urban assault rifle, if you will, being distributed to more cops.

Now, for the previous years, you had advocates saying that police should be regulated.

But this [event] showed in a matter of minutes that you could have hundreds of rounds fired off in a neighborhood.