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Why police took hours to warn public that Monterey Park mass shooter was on the loose

Richard Winton, Hannah Fry, Brittny Mejia and Noah Goldberg, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Horace Frank, a former assistant chief at the Los Angeles Police Department, said typically an agency’s first inclination would be to notify the public when a mass shooter is at large.

“It is a public safety issue,” he said. “The only time you don’t do that is when you can articulate specific reasons otherwise. You always err on the side of keeping the public informed.”

Frank, who oversaw counterterrorism and tactical operations at LAPD, said in this case, “if there is a reason for delay, I cannot think of one.”

At 11:20 a.m. Sunday, sheriff’s officials issued a “special bulletin” seeking the public’s help identifying the suspect with photos of Tran from security camera footage and a warning that “he should be considered armed and dangerous.” Around the same time, police in Torrance located a white van that had been linked to the shootings.

Authorities later approached the van at a strip mall near Sepulveda and Hawthorne boulevards. Inside, they found Tran dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Travis Norton, who runs the After Action Review Team for the California Association of Tactical Officers, said the five-hour wait time was surprising, but without having all the facts of the case, it is hard to say why the Sheriff’s Department might not have notified the public.

 

“It is not usual to wait that long if they have a known suspect. However, there is always the possibility they have a good reason,” he said.

Norton, who is also a lieutenant with the Oceanside Police Department, added that it’s possible in a mass shooting situation with so many victims that the failure to notify the public could have been an “oversight.”

“These are rapidly unfolding events, even after the shooting stops. Dealing with multiple victims, crime scene processing, large number of witnesses, an active manhunt and all the other factors and dynamics at play make these events highly complex,” he said.

James Hellmold, a retired chief of special operations with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, said the lack of information early in the investigation could have been strategic.

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