Two Decades Ago Today: North Hollywood Shootout

north hollywood shootout documentary
February 28, 2017  
Categories: Musings

Two Decades Ago Today: North Hollywood Shootout

Fifty Shades of FDE

Twenty years ago, on February 28th, 1997, two heavily armed, armored and masked bank robbers engaged hundreds of courageous LAPD Officers in the North Hollywood Shootout, which lasted 44 minutes. When it was over both gunmen were dead and twelve of LA’s finest, along with eight civilians, were wounded.

Here’s a piece of the National Geographic documentary on it:

In 1997, I was still in middle school and could hardly remember the incident on the TV news. When I got to high school and started to have aspirations of becoming a Law Enforcement Officer, the North Hollywood Shootout was a topic that was hard to miss. I did a research paper on it for my history class, and in doing so I read every news article and watched all the documentaries I could get my hands on. There were many hard lessons learned that day. Fortunately no officers or civilians were killed by the time the bullets stopped flying, although many were seriously wounded and would have physical scars and pain for the rest of their lives.


Law Enforcement had to reevaluate itself and make changes to ensure that officers would be better equipped to face heavily armed criminals. The biggest change was the Patrol Rifle Program; many surplus US military rifles found their way to police department armories throughout southern California, giving officers enough firepower to have a fighting chance. Individual First Aid Kits (IFAKs) were also placed in every patrol car.

I started my law enforcement career a little over ten years after the shootout. And since then, I’ve watched the progression of technology, the hardware and kit we’re issued to get the job done.

Body armor has seen incredible improvements. Back in ’97 SAPI plates for rifle threat protection weren’t widely available and if they were, they weighed a ton. Today, rifle threat plates have gotten as light as three pounds per plate. That’s hardly any extra weight to hinder movement. Ballistic helmets also got lighter and stronger.


Patrol rifles and shotguns have also seen upgrades, with officers now carrying carbine-length AR-15’s rather than full sized surplus M16s. All of our Remington 870 Shotguns got a makeover a few years back, with a magazine extension, collapsible stock, pistol grip, Surefire forend light and a sling. Shotgun ammunition has improved with low-recoil slugs that are more accurate than they’ve ever been, and more effective than buck shot at extended distances.

Beginning a few years back, IFAKs from SO Tech have been issued to every LAPD Officer and are now being issued to LASD Deputies. Tactical Medicine has come a long way, with over a decade of experience coming back from the GWOT. Tourniquets are more prevalent than ever because they save lives and are no longer considered a ‘last resort’ medical tool, as the majority of first responders were taught until recently.


Since the North Hollywood Shootout, there have been horrific terrorist attacks and homicidal active shooters all over our country and across the world. Terrorist attacks abroad in Beslan, Mumbai, Paris and here at home in Boston and more recently in Dallas, have taken many lives of first responders and civilians. There are many more incidents, these are just what popped into my mind.

As a professional law enforcement officer, I make sure I’m prepared to handle whatever crisis may take place on my shift. I do so by researching these incidents and learning from them. Based on all the information I gathered, I make sure I get relevant training and the right equipment to deal with the worst case scenario.

Where I’m assigned, some of us get patrol rifles and some get upgraded 870s. I didn’t get lucky enough to get a rifle but I do have a very effective 870, which I load only with issued Federal Low Recoil slugs. I have seven in the magazine tube and six on the side saddle. I don’t care if the bad guy is wearing body armor, they’re going down after an ounce of lead traveling at over 1,000 fps hits them. I carry three extra magazines for my VP9, two of which have Xtech Tactical +5 baseplates giving me two twenty-round mags and one standard fifteen-round mag. For rifle protection, I have a plate carrier with level III In Conjunction With (ICW) plates. They work along with my soft armor. A medical kit is extremely important, therefore I have multiple kits on my go bag and plate carrier. I have a tourniquet on my person at all times.


We learned a lot from that infamous day in North Hollywood. We know now that we needed more than duty pistols and shotguns loaded with buckshot, and we really need rifle threat protection. Many people who don’t remember this shootout come up with terms like “Militarized Police” and don’t seem to understand why law enforcement needs to have armored Bearcats, plate carriers and rifles. They’re usually not the ones running towards gunfire like the brave LAPD Officers on that day, or the many LEO’s since then running towards the threat over and over again. That’s what we signed up to do, and we do so without hesitation. Let us get the job done with the equipment and training we need so that we can go home at the end of our shift.

This is dedicated to the courageous LAPD Officers who responded and engaged in a firefight, knowing they were seriously outgunned, and stood their ground.


-Fifty Shades of FDE

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Fifty Shades of FDE

Fifty Shades of FDE

About the Author

Fifty Shades of FDE is a full-time LEO in California with about a decade's service in a very large metropolitan agency. He’s a husband, father and firearms enthusiast. He is a supporter of the Second Amendment and a proponent of law abiding citizens’ right to defend themselves with concealed carry permits. He runs his @fiftyshadesofFDE page on Instagram and writes gun/gear reviews on - when he's not writing for Breach-Bang-Clear, of course.

1 Comment

  1. Reflex Handgun

    The North Hollywood Shootout was certainly a game changer. Similar in impact to the FBI Shootout in 1986. These focusing events usher in new tactics and gear changes, often for the better. The adoption of the patrol rifle was a huge benefit that came to be greatly due to this experience. Your note on good shotgun slugs is also interesting, had they had good slugs during this incident it would have ended quickly.

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