Anatomy of an L.A. Police Pursuit

September 20, 2012
How police and media helicopters navigate the crowded airspace of L.A. when a suspect's on the run.

It's the sort of escapade Los Angeles has long been known for: a man in a stolen car with an AK-47 drives dangerously through the streets of rush-hour L.A. with a tail of about 8 police cars directly behind, and even more following a short ways back. The driver had allegedly carjacked the vehicle from its owner earlier that day – a slightly less concerning crime than the homicide he allegedly committed in July. The car's electronic tracking system had alerted police to its location and a chase ensued for more than an hour – at relatively low speed – through the city. An LAPD helicopter trailing overhead and a plethora of black-and-whites behind, the driver had few options for escape.

He eventually misjudged an intersection's cross traffic and crashed into another car, bringing the vehicle pursuit to a halt. Climbing out of the car, he stumbled into the street where, with the car he just hit standing in as a shield, he got into a brief firefight with the police. He was promptly shot, arrested and taken off to the hospital with critical but nonlethal wounds.

In addition to the LAPD helicopter following above, there were at least seven other helicopters in the sky at the time. But unlike the short orbits the police helicopter had been spinning above the fleeing car, these other helicopters were hovering in place much farther from the action. Farther, but just close enough for their cameras to stream the whole incident to local TV news stations. Live, local, late-breaking, et cetera.