Monterey Park, California – lost in the wake Monterey Park Ballroom Shooting Hall that claimed the lives of 11 people is an unsettling fact: It took five hours for the authorities to alert the public that the gunman was on the loose Saturday night.
Even after the 72-year-old shooter brought a submachine gun to another nearby ballroom about half an hour later, thwarted a potential attack by a hero who grabbed the weapon and chased the man away, it would take hours more. Before the police held a press conference to announce that the suspect was still at large.
Experts say the weekend mass shooting that sent fear into Los Angeles’ Asian American communities highlights the lack of national standards for notifying the public, and the need for a robust alert system — similar to Amber Alerts — that would instantly sound alarms on phones. portable. in the surrounding areas and place warnings on highway signs.
“Five hours is kind of ridiculous,” said Chris Grolnick, an expert in active shooter tactics and a retired police officer and SWAT team member. “This would be a really good case study. Why five hours?”
An alarm should have sounded immediately, said Brian Higgins, a former SWAT team leader and police chief in Bergen County, NJ, and a half hour between the two incidents was more than enough time to do so.
“Why did it take you so long?” said Higgins, an assistant professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Maybe they were still doing their investigation. Maybe they just didn’t have a good handle on what they had. But if they didn’t know, they should have erred on the side of caution and put that out there.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said Monday that his department was “strategic” in its decision to release the information, but that he would review what happened.
“When we started releasing public information, the priority was to put this person into custody,” Luna said. “In the end it worked. We’ll go back and look at it like we always do. No one is as critical as we are in terms of what worked and what didn’t specifically, assessing that, and knowing what was waiting in determining what the overall stakes were at the time.”
The timeline of events shows that the police were silent for hours, not only about the shooting of the shooter, but about the fact that the shooting took place at all, with the information arriving from police scanners and sources rather than official channels. The delays come just hours after tens of thousands of revelers took to the streets of the heavily Asian American city to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Authorities said the first call about the shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio came on Saturday at 10:22 p.m. local time and officers responded within three minutes. Monterey Park Police said it took several minutes for the officers – many of whom are novices in the force – to assess the chaotic scene and search for the gunman, who had already fled.
About 20 minutes after the first shooting, at 10:44, the gunman who was later identified as Hou Kan Tran walked to the Lai Lai Ballroom about 3 miles (4.8 km) away in the Alhambra. He confronted 26-year-old Brandon Tsai in the hallway.
Tsai, a computer programmer who helps run his family’s ballroom, told the New York Times that he was unaware of the previous Monterey Park shooting when he lunged at the man and began struggling to get the gun out of his hands. Cai eventually seized the weapon, ordering him to “Go, get out of here!” He watches as he drives away in a white van.
More than an hour later, at 11:53 p.m., word came that the shooter was still at large—not from an official source, but from a media outlet monitoring police chatter on a scanner. “The suspect is still at large, according to what the PD said on the scene,” RMG News wrote on Twitter.
The Associated Press began calling the Monterey Park police, fire departments, and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department shortly before the RMG News alert, and continued calling for about three hours. The Monterey Park police did not respond. A sheriff official confirmed to the Associated Press that there were nine fatalities shortly before 2:36 a.m. Sunday, when the Associated Press posted an alert.
At 2:49 a.m., the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Information Office released a news report confirming the deaths and adding that the suspect was male. There was still no mention that he was at large.
Finally, just after 3:30 a.m., five hours after the shooting, LA County Sheriff’s Captain Andrew Meyer held a press conference to announce that the death toll was 10 and for the first time publicly stated “The suspect fled the scene and remains unresolved.”
By midday Sunday, police 30 miles (48 kilometers) away in Torrance swept into a strip business parking lot and surrounded a white van matching the description of the vehicle Tran was last seen driving. After approaching carefully, SWAT teams stormed in at 1 p.m. and found Tran dead in the driver’s seat with a gunshot wound.
Police are still investigating the motive for the killing.
Kathryn Schuette, a retired FBI agent who led the agency’s active shooting program, acknowledged that these mass shootings can be overwhelming and hectic and that “the first priority is always the victims and the survivors.”
But she said, “Communication with the public is equally important. Generally, when law enforcement authorities believe there is an additional threat to the public or are looking for a suspect, they notify the public.”
Vibrating smartphone warnings about everything from missing children and elderly people to impending snowfalls and flash floods have become commonplace over the past decade. More than 1,600 federal, state and local jurisdictions — including Los Angeles County — are equipped to send mobile phone alerts through the federally funded Integrated Public Alert and Alert System, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We have the technology,” said former FBI agent Gregory Shaffer, who is now president of a risk management and tactical training firm in Dallas. “It just isn’t used.”
Last year’s House bill would have created an active gunfire alert network to replace the messy patching of alert systems used by thousands of towns and cities suffering from message delays and low registration. He died in the Senate but one of his sponsors, US Rep. Mike Thompson, a California Democrat, said late Monday he plans to reintroduce the legislation.
“I think the fact that people have been left on the hook in this situation for such an awful long time speaks to the need for the bill,” Thompson said. “People need to be warned.”
Condon and Mustian reported from New York and Watson from San Diego. Christopher Weber contributed from Los Angeles.
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