California: Police took 5 hours to alert about shooter

In the midst of all the information about the shooting that left 11 dead in a dance hall in Monterey Park, California, there is an alarming fact: it took the police five hours to alert the public that the attacker was on the run.

Even after the 72-year-old attacker went into another dance hall with his submachine gun-style pistol — a potential attack that was thwarted by a hero who snatched the gun from him and chased the man away — it was several hours before police offered to a press conference to announce that the assailant was on the loose.

Experts say the massacre, which struck terror into the Los Angeles-area Asian community, highlighted the lack of national standards for notifying the public and the need for aggressive alerts — similar to Amber alerts about the theft of infants. — that would immediately send messages to cell phones and flash signs on highways.

“Five hours is kind of ridiculous,” said Chris Grollnek, a retired police officer and SWAT tactical squad officer who specializes in active shooters. “This will be a very good case to study in the future. Why five hours?

Brian Higgins, a former SWAT commander and Bergen County Sheriff in New Jersey, said an alert should have been issued immediately and that half an hour between the two incidents was more than enough to do so.

“Why did it take so long?” asked Higgins, an adjunct professor at the John Jay College School of Criminal Justice in New York City. “Maybe they were still doing their research, maybe they weren’t quite sure what they had. But even if they didn’t know, they should have erred on caution and issued an advisory.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said Monday that his department was “strategic” in its decision to release the information, but would still review what happened.

“When we started disseminating information, our priority was to get this person into custody,” Luna said. “In the end it worked. We’re going to go back and review it, like we always do. No one is more critical than we are as to what worked and specifically what didn’t work, and we will evaluate that and look at the reason for the wait, to determine what the risk was to the public at that time.”

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Condon and Mustian reported from New York; Watson from San Diego and Christopher Weber from Los Angeles.

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