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LAPD gets M-16s


Result of being outgunned in February shootout

September 22, 1997
Web posted at: 2:41 p.m. EDT (1841 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- The police arsenal here now includes M-16 rifles powerful enough to pierce body armor like that worn by two heavily armed bank robbers last February. The pair fired hundreds of rounds, outgunning more than 200 officers in a North Hollywood shootout carried on live television.

The two bandits, Emil Matasareanu and Larry Eugene Phillips Jr., fired automatic weapons including AK-47 and M-16-type rifles in their attempt to escape after the stickup was foiled. At first, police could only fire back with standard issue 9 mm and .38-caliber revolvers.

Scenes from the February 28 shootout:
video icon 1.6M/43 sec. QuickTime movie

Scenes from the Feb. 28 shootout

A dozen people -- officers and bystanders -- were injured in the February 28 shootout. Both robbers died, one by suicide. But the tide of the urban gun battle didn't turn until police borrowed more powerful weapons from a nearby gun shop.

600 surplus M-16s

That won't happen again. In direct response to the North Hollywood shootout, Los Angeles police have acquired 600 M-16s -- U.S. Army surplus weapons donated by the Pentagon.

"This was a clear indication that we needed that kind of firepower and we need it early on," says LAPD Commander Rick Dinse.

The weapons, which will be converted from fully automatic to semi-automatic for safety reasons, will be assigned to sergeants and carried in the trunks of their cars.

Police on the street are glad to have the extra firepower and say it would have helped back in February.

"At least we would have had something decent to shoot back at those guys, rather than just our 9-millimeters and little 38s that some guys still carry," one officer told CNN.

Nearly every police agency and city council in the nation took notice on that deadly day.

Miami moved to put more powerful weapons in the hands of its police. And in Los Angeles, itself, the Police Commission voted to allow officers to carry .45-caliber semi-automatic pistols.

Many police agencies already carry M-16s or equivalent kinds of weapons but they are usually reserved for SWAT teams. In Los Angeles, however, the extra firepower is going directly to the streets.

Correspondent Greg LaMotte contributed to this report.


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