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Beck to Brown: Appeal Court's Decision on Body Armor for Felons

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Detail of the LAPD cruiser that was shot out during the NoHo Shootout | Photo by Zach Behrens/LAist

A law born out of the 1997 North Hollywood shootout was struck down by the 2nd District Court of Appeals recently, citing vague language, prompting law enforcement groups and agencies across the state, the LAPD included, to protest. "The law prohibiting convicted felons from wearing or possessing body armor was passed by the California State Legislature in 1998 as a measure to protect police officers and those in our communities from violent felons who are increasingly using high-powered firearms," wrote LAPD Chief Charlie Beck in a letter sent to Attorney General Jerry Brown, urging him to appeal the decision.

Others believe an appeal would be worthless because the law could be enacted again if the state legislature tweaked the vague language to be more clear.

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Beck's letter is below:

Dear Attorney General Brown: On February 29, 1997, the calm of the morning in North Hollywood was shattered by the sounds of automatic gunfire as two heavily-armed and armored men left a bank they had just robbed. Plans for a quick getaway were thwarted by responding Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers. Over the next 44-minutes, brave men and women of the LAPD engaged Larry Eugene Phillips, Jr. and Emil Matasareanu in a ferocious gun battle that eventually left ten police officers and five people injured. It also led to the deaths of the two bank robbers.

The two bank robbers were no strangers to violence, having robbed several other banks prior to their attempt in North Hollywood. Besides carrying fully automatic rifles with ammunition capable of penetrating police body armor, they were also wearing military grade body armor. The carnage on the streets of North Hollywood that day was a wake-up call then and a reminder today of the dangers of allowing convicted violent felons to have access to body armor.

The law prohibiting convicted felons from wearing or possessing body armor was passed by the California State Legislature in 1998 as a measure to protect police officers and those in our communities from violent felons who are increasingly using high-powered firearms. The need for this law is evermore present today. In 2008, in the City of Los Angeles, four LAPD officers came under unprovoked gunfire attack. In 2009, that number doubled with eight LAPD officers being randomly fired upon. Over the past year alone, there have been seven incidents of officers being fired upon. The increasing number of assaults with deadly weapons against our frontline public safety defenders is a clear indication that we cannot give violent felons the upper hand.

Last week’s Second District Court of Appeals to overturn the 1998 law gives violent criminals the upper hand. There is an absolute need for a ban on these types of body armor for anyone other than law enforcement personnel or law enforcement related personnel. I urge you to immediately appeal the Second District Court of Appeals decision. The men and women defending public safety across the state and the people of California deserve no less.

If you would like to discuss this matter further, or have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact my Public Information Director, Ms. Mary Grady at (213) 486-5900.

Very truly yours,

CHARLIE BECK
Chief of Police