Firefight Friday

Norco, California, 1980, Firefight Friday

NorcoWe’ve all heard about the North Hollywood shootout in 1997. Have you ever heard about the Norco, California shootout in 1980?

In Norco, California, on May 9, 1980, FIVE bank robbers attempted a robbery of a Security Pacific Bank. Heavily armed with shotguns, handguns, an AR-15, an HK-91, an HK-93, and even IEDs, 4 men made entry on the bank, while one waited outside. Before it was over, 1 Deputy and 2 robbers would be dead. Nine officers were wounded, over 30 police cars were damaged, and a police helicopter had even taken fire.

Their plan started going wrong when an employee at a competing bank observed the robbers go in. She called the police immediately. Glyn Bolasky, a Deputy with Riverside County, arrived first. The lookout alerted the men inside and they exited and immediately started firing at Bolasky. He was able to put his vehicle in reverse and withdraw. He took cover and immediately returned fire. The robbers fled the scene in their van, but did not cease firing at Bolasky. Bolasky was able to fire a shot into the vehicle and strike the driver in the back of the head. The vehicle lost control and crashed. The robbers then had to proceed on foot. With over 200 rounds fired in Bolasky’s direction, his vehicle was struck 47 times. Bolasky was also shot multiple times in the face, shoulder, forearms, and elbow.

Two officers arrived on scene and while one engaged the shooter, the other successfully evacuated Bolasky. After commandeering another vehicle, the remaining 4 robbers engaged in a shootout with officers eventually damaging 33 cars and a helicopter with their small arms and their improvised explosive devices. Managing to get a significant distance from the officers, they stopped and established an ambush point on the road. Responding officers were only armed with .38 revolvers and 12 gauge shotguns, the standard loadout for officers of the time. Prior to the attack, Riverside Deputy James Evans radioed to other officers that he sensed an impending ambush. Evans, a Green Beret Veteran of the Vietnam War, did what he could with what he had. He attempted to engage the suspects with his revolver at a distance of over 50 yards. After reloading, and exposing himself to continue firing, he was shot through the eye with a rifle and died instantly.

Not until San Bernardino Deputy DJ McCarty brought an AR-15 to the fight did the suspects disengage and flee the scene. They fled into the woods and were captured the next day. One of the remaining 4 was killed in another shootout before capture.

The remaining 3 were convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

A few lessons learned from this incident still affect law enforcement today. After the ammunition limitations of the 6-shot revolver proved to be a problem, many agencies in the area began the transition to semi-automatic 9mm and .40 caliber handguns. The limitations of the shotgun brought about the issuance of Ruger Mini-14’s and AR-15/M16’s to patrol officers. Even the helicopter that received small arms fire during the incident brought about additional training for air units. In recent years, this training was even used by San Bernardino deputies to bring a pursuit to a close by providing effective fire from the air.

Does your agency issue rifles? Rifle rated armor? If not, do you supply your own? What do you think still needs to be done to prepare for incidents like this?

In an effort to better organize and provide my blog some direction, I’ll be using Fridays to detail some of law enforcement’s most significant shoot-outs. Any suggestions for lesser known incidents?

I sourced Wikipedia and a Massad Ayoob article for some of these details.



The Last on Courtesy from Elements of Police Science

This will wrap up the chapter on courtesy as briefly as possible. I’m working on a way to summarize all the courtesy points from several sources into one compact write-up that I might post here. Hopefully it’s worth a damn.

Our author is brief but specific in his expectations of personal appearance and tone. He points out that appearance is accepted as going hand in hand with ability. While well dressed men may not make the best officers, the best officers should present themselves in a clean professional manner so as to exude confidence in their ability. Take a bath, shave, wash your hands, cut your hair, and brush your teeth. These all seem like basic points, but he felt the need to present them. An entire paragraph is dedicated to bad breath. If you can’t get rid of bad breath, he goes so far as to recommend medical help! Basically, wash your ass, shine your brass, and shave. That’s the best way I can summarize this section.

His next section covers tone. “Every time you speak, you touch someone with your voice.” “Ninety percent of all the friction of daily life is caused by mere tone of voice.” The author suggests you not talk too loudly, don’t mumble, but don’t enunciate every single word. He recommends a low pleasant voice. Personally, I have found that about 90% of my interactions are best facilitated by a quiet voice. Raising my voice in a tense situation occasionally calms it down, but a soft voice has been far more effective.

The chapter continues with instructions on how to act patriotically in regards to the flag. There is also a ridiculously detailed section on dining etiquette. I suppose back in the day, police officers were held in a higher regard in society and dined with important people. The author felt officer’s needed instruction on how to hold a spoon, which fork to use, and how to hold a glass. It’s crazy to think how far things have changed. I’ll skip those details, as they are excruciatingly boring.

We end with the section “Courtesy Pays.” In the same sense as karma, the author explains that being courteous will return great rewards for those who take the time. While never being able to point to a single action we perform, the small things we do daily, added up, can enhance the respect and support we receive from the public. The only tangible immediate return we see is the feeling in our heart. We’ll never get rich doing this job; however, the feeling of accomplishment we receive from what we do shouldn’t be ignored. Sometimes, that’s all we get. We also can’t ignore the impact our interactions have on the public. “The whole life of a person in his outlook on law and officers of the law may be involved in a minor contact with him. An unthinking act of discourtesy may embitter him or a simple display of consideration and thoughtfulness make him an ally on the side of law and order.”

I’ll close with a few personal stories about how I think courtesy can affect our attitudes towards law enforcement.

My Dad told me a story of when he was a teenager he had a flat tire while in bad weather, and had no tools. An officer, with tools, stopped and helped him change that tire without complaining. Without that officer, Dad would have been stranded. Dad told me the way that officer did his job, and  how he was helping him in his hour of need, left an impression on him. He said he admired the officer so much he wanted to become an officer himself.

If we rewind a few years, my Dad was a child. His family wasn’t flush with money. They got by but vacations were few and far between. He told me of a time when Grandpa had hyped a camping trip. All the kids were excited. He said they had the car loaded up and had just pulled out. They weren’t far from home when Grandpa got pulled over. I don’t recall the infraction, but Grandpa got a ticket. He didn’t argue. He didn’t complain. He accepted the ticket, and then he turned around and told everyone, “Well, sorry, guys, we can’t go camping.” That ticket was enough to set them back that Grandpa couldn’t afford the trip any more. As a child, I cannot imagine how much you have to hate that cop for ruining your trip. Maybe Grandpa deserved the ticket, but a child probably doesn’t care. I tell these two examples to show how a single act from a cop could totally influence someone’s opinion on us. In every single thing you do, be cognizant of the potential ramifications. Sometimes we have to do things that suck. Sometimes we can’t cut breaks when we want to. But just keep in mind what’s at stake.

The coming chapters cover witness testimony, photography, fingerprints, and a whole lotta other potentially outdated stuff. I’ll skip most of it. If there’s anything of interest in those chapters, I’ll try to include it in more interesting write-ups. Again, if you have questions, opinions, comments, feel free to comment or email. I’m interested in other viewpoints.


The Beginning of Law Enforcement, Rollin Perkins

Perkins begins by talking about how one day motion pictures with sound effects would become an important part of documenting history. Little did he know just how important video would be to law enforcement in the future. With no video of the beginnings of law enforcement, we have to rely on our minds and imagination to visualize the early days of our profession. He details the “hue and cry” as where it all began. If someone were to discover they were a victim of a theft, they couldn’t phone the police, because of two main problems: they didn’t have phones, and the police didn’t exist. Instead, the victim would alert the village by blowing a horn and shouting “Out! Out!” His neighbors would come from their homes, already armed, to come to his aid even without knowing the circumstances. In the example, a cow has been stolen. A young witness advises he saw a man taking the cow from the village. With this information, the newly formed mob begins a march in the direction the suspect was last seen. They shout. They blow horns. They clang their weapons. Upon reaching a new village, those villagers also come out, armed, ready to assist. The suspects direction is surmised and the now larger group marches on.
—-The authors image presents a few key points. This willingness of neighbors to assist, even before they know the issue is something we have lost over time. People can witness crimes and turn a blind eye. The murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964 New York is a prime example. Stabbed and killed outside of her apartment, 35+ people reportedly saw or heard the attack and failed to call the police. It became known as the “bystander effect” or the “Genovese attack.” Although those facts have been disputed over the years, and perhaps people DID report it, many of us in law enforcement have seen time and again people refusing to get involved. This lack of community responsibility has placed more of a burden on the police profession. Another issue raised is the physical fitness of the mob. Once they leave the second village, those less physically fit turn around, leaving the new crew and the more fit of the original crew to continue. I’m not the most physically fit cop around. That being said, a basic level of fitness and a willingness to continue the mission are important not only in the pursuit of justice, but also of utmost importance in not creating more work for our co-workers.
Back to the book:
Perkins addresses the capture of the suspected thief. Spotted in the distance, walking the missing cow, the suspect hears the cries and shouts of the “hue and cry” mob. As they begin to rush him, he flees. The fittest and fastest catch him. There is no “laws delay” in these days. Justice is swift. Appeals are non-existent. For too long, the suspects were presumed to be willing to say anything, to lie because they were obviously protecting their own interests. Refused the right to defend themselves, they had to sit and listen as anyone who had anything to contribute was allowed to build the case against them. In the end, our suspect is hung from the tree. Compared to the all too modern Lynch mobs, the hue and cry was criticized for its focus on justice and inattention to possible innocence. It was ineffective in solving crimes and when they were solved, the question of guilt remained. Was our suspect the actual thief? Was he unwittingly drawn into by the original suspect selling or dumping his ill-gotten goods? Without a process of effective trial, the hue and cry eventually fell from favor.
Centuries later, the “Grand Jury” came to be in the Assize of Clarendon in 1166. An “appeal” in this time was different than we view it today. It was an accusation of a felony. An appeal could be viewed today as charging. Although entitled to a trial, the accused was often only offered trial by combat. Although discarded for centuries, it was not formally abolished until 1819!
—–The Assize of Clarendon. Established by Henry II in the midst of the crusades it attempted to solve many problems. No records were officially maintained as to who owned which properties and disputes were increasing as squatters began to claim supposedly already claimed land. Two warring factions in the kingdom created many property disputes as each faction claimed and dispersed with property they each felt they had a right too. Of extreme importance was the King’s efforts to create a court with authority over the church. The church had been holding court outside of the kingdoms reach. Biased in their rulings, judgements often ran contrary to the kingdoms interests. All of this built the framework for trial systems in common law.
Back to the book:
Perkins described people caught “in seisin of his crime.” Caught red handed, people in the past were denied trials. Ancient tribes, when faced with a tribesman committing evil deeds, were faced with the fear that their god or gods would associate the tribe with the evildoer. To disassociate, they stripped the evil tribesman naked, forced them into exile, and destroyed his home and belongings. Removing all connections, they hoped to avoid any punishment from the gods.
—These outcasts were referred to as “wolf.” They were demonized and could be killed by anyone without repercussion. I found it interesting that even centuries or millennia ago, they referred to their societies worst members as “wolves.” Dave Grossman’s sheep/sheepdog/wolf analogy may be rooted more in history than analogy than I previously thought.
Back to the book:
Perkins describes a process of “exacting.” Rather than the arduous process of arrest, a suspect was accused and indicted in 4 successive county courts. He was expected to appear at one of the courts to face the accusation and defend himself. If at the 5th hearing, the accused failed to show, he was stripped of property and lands, and if later captured, his guilt was presumed and his trip to the gallows was expedited. The main drawback was that one might be facing indictment and miss all 5 court dates without ever hearing of his indictment. If sentenced in absence, and never found, he was essentially “dead” in the courts eyes and could never own property again.
Prior to many of these advancements in law enforcement, sheriffs, bailiffs, and constables were tasked with leading the hue and cry mobs. They evolved with the times into more of what we recognize today. Arrest and detention has become an official responsibility. Not until 1829 did Sir Robert Peel form his “Bobbies.” The London Police had been formed.
Moving to America
Massachusetts 1699 saw the formation of a “watch” to keep the area safe from 9pm until sunrise. The “ward” was responsible for the daytime hours. Able bodied men, 16 years and older, rotated the responsibility without compensation. Eventually paid men took the duties. Not until 1884 did New York authorize the consolidation of watch and ward to form the first modern police force.

Is there a time in history you wish you could be a cop? Are you thankful for the advancements we’ve made? Should the hue and cry come back? Like, comment, share, message. I’d love a discussion.