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.