The North Hollywood Bank Robbery Shootout

“Stolen sweets are best.” —Colley Cibber, The Rival Fools

In A Nutshell

One day in 1997, two professional bank robbers were engaged by patrol cops after their latest job in Los Angeles. Equipped with body armor and high-capacity assault rifles, they engaged in a 44-minute firefight with dozens of police officers that led to new standards for how such situations are dealt with.

The Whole Bushel

Emil Matasareanu and Larry Phillips Jr. were bank robbers: That was their job. Their assignment on February 28, 1997 probably would have gone off without a hitch had they not been spotted by two LAPD patrol officers as they entered the bank. There was no mistaking their intention, dressed as they were in black ski masks and about 40 pounds each of body armor.

Realizing they had been spotted after cleaning out the vault, they opted for a course of action not many bank robbers have tried before or since. Rather than take hostages or make demands, they took their money, walked out of the surrounded bank, and started shooting. Dozens of cops with 9-millimeter semi-automatic pistols returned fire—for the better part of an hour.

Their body armor kept the shooters upright as they squeezed off hundreds and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. They carried HK-91 (semi-automatic) and AR-15 (fully automatic) assault rifles, and the police simply had no idea how to respond. The shooters carried with them a trunk full of thousands of rounds and extra weapons and would calmly discard one gun for another when one ran dry.

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One gunman was finally shot in the head at close range after suffering multiple wounds, as even body armor won’t hold up forever. The other collapsed from blood loss and later died after failing to commandeer a truck and engaging in a six-minute solo battle. In November of the same year, the Omaha, Nebraska police department became the first to graduate a class equipped with AR-15s of their own, and the LAPD was quick to follow suit in offering the option to their officers. The incident changed the way departments across the country and around the world arm their patrol officers—the first in which police found themselves so profoundly outgunned—but amazingly, though 12 police and eight civilians were injured, the gunmen were the only two fatalities.

Show Me The Proof

Botched L.A. bank heist turns into bloody shootout
How the North Hollywood Shootout Changed Patrol Arsenals
North Hollywood shootout, 15 years later

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