(PC - The Daily Beast)

Today, patrol rifles are common in patrol cars. They are routinely issued to patrol, and often, most officers in an agency have a rifle. This was not the case in the 1980s. Back then, most police officers only had a revolver with a total of 18 rounds and, possibly, a shotgun holding only 4 rounds of buckshot.

Where it started – Security Pacific Bank’s Norco branch (PC – OC Register).

“The Police” are terrible at passing information down to the next generation of officers. Giving credit where it is due, most fire departments do a great job of knowing their historical successes and notable incidents, codifying the lessons learned, and passing them on. Perhaps we can learn from our brethren in the fire service.

Nope, Not That One

When most cops think of watershed moments that changed police work, we usually think about the North Hollywood Bank of America robbery and subsequent shootout in 1997. That event brought the argument for patrol rifles to the forefront. Two heavily armed men robbed the Bank of America in Los Angeles’ North Hollywood neighborhood on February 28th, 1997. The ensuing shootout lasted more than 40 minutes and ended with more than 1000 rounds fired by the bad guys and 650 rounds fired by police. Both bad guys died at the scene, while twelve police officers and eight civilians were injured. 

Neither LAPD nor most major cities issued patrol rifles to their officers. 

During the prolonged gunfight, some officers obtained rifles from a nearby gun store. None of those rifles were used in the event. 

But did you know another bank robbery had occurred in 1980 that was eerily like North Hollywood? 

The Robbery

On May 9th, 1980, five heavily armed men robbed the Security Pacific bank in the City of Norco, California. 

A Norco patrol car after being shot up in the initial engagement (PC – Daily Breeze).

Upon exiting the bank, they were confronted by Riverside County Deputy Glyn Bolasky. The robbers immediately fired on him, with more than 200 rounds, and hit his cruiser 47 times. He returned fire with both a Remington 870 shotgun and his revolver. He managed to hit the driver of the getaway van with one pellet, killing him instantly. To make this situation worse, there was a hostage in the vehicle – the owner of the van. Luckily, he was uninjured and was eventually freed.

The first suspect vehicle. The owner had been kidnapped when the van was stolen and held inside during the robbery and the first engagement (PC – OC Register).

Deputy Bolasky was shot five times but survived. Other officers evacuated him to a hospital in a patrol car. 

Gun Battle on the Highway

After abandoning the van, they carjacked a pickup and led police on a 25-mile car chase and rolling gunfight into San Bernardino County. The bad guys were armed with long guns and improvised explosive devices. Those IEDs were makeshift grenades that they could launch out of a shotgun. 

Are you equipped for this?  The suspects engaging one of the officers head-on during the pursuit. Are you equipped for this (PC – OC Register)?

That rolling gunfight continued throughout the pursuit. The perpetrators were armed with Colt M-4 style rifles, HK-91 rifles, and homemade launchable grenades and bombs.  The deputies and CHP officers were armed with revolvers and pump shotguns, usually loaded with buckshot.  More than 30 police vehicles were damaged by gunfire. A police helicopter was struck by that gunfire, forcing it to make an emergency landing. Police had to stay far back from the vehicle as the rifles used by the bad guys were much more effective, at a distance, than their handguns and shotguns. 

End of the Chase

Deputy on a perimeter position. He’s deployed a scope hunting rifle (PC – Daily News).

The pursuit eventually entered a national forest. The bad guys pulled away from the police before stopping and setting up a hasty ambush.  That attack led to the murder of Riverside County Deputy James Evans. 

The memorial for Deputy James Evans, Riverside Co Sheriff’s Department, who was murdered by the suspects (PC – Daily News).

The next arriving officers were also armed with only .38 revolvers and shotguns. It was only when two deputies from San Bernardino County arrived with an M16 and started to engage the bad guys that they fled into the woods. News photos of the time show deputies with bolt-action hunting rifles. All the suspects were captured shortly after that. 

CHP Officer Doug Earnest treating the wounds of fellow Officer Bill Crowe (historical photo).

Following the robbery and shootout, the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office began to equip their deputies with Mini 14’s and M-16s. Maybe the outcome would have been different, and Deputy Evans might have survived if the officers had been equipped with patrol rifles prior to this incident. 

Final Thought

Some of the weapons brought and used by the suspects (PC – DailyNews).

If Deputy Bolasky had an M-4 or similar rifle at the first engagement, could he have stopped the threat without any further loss of innocent life? Would a patrol rifle with its higher capacity and better accuracy have changed the outcome of the incident?


Book – Norco 80

NPR Podcast – Norco80

(Editor’s note: The misspelling of Deputy Bolasky’s name was corrected, and his use of a revolver was added)