Guns on Wilshire

Location: Chase Bank on Wilshire, just west of Crenshaw, a couple days before Christmas. Koreatown is to the east, Hancock Park to the north and the Miracle Mile to the west. It's a nondescript stretch of Wilshire, with decades-old office buildings, a historic church, an imposing Masonic edifice, the odd residential complex and a few friendly retail storefronts.

The task: an ATM deposit. The bank's parking spaces are nearly filled. Commerce is brisk.

The chop-chop-chop of a circling LAPD helicopter punctures the scene. A police cruiser pulls up on Wilshire, facing east, and crosses over to the wrong side of the street, stopping at a slight diagonal just yards from the curb adjoining the bank property. Flashing lights go on, two officers exit the vehicle and jog with a sense of urgency to the building next to the bank.

Another cop car pulls up. Then another. In groups of two, the officers hustle, hands near holsters, toward the 1970s slab-architecture office building's front doors, like programmed video game invaders converging on a defender's bunker. These guys aren't SWAT, but there's a SWAT-like mode of readiness evident in their grim countenances and academy-trained troop movements.

Soon, 10 cruisers are angled around the several-story-tall, fortresslike structure and traffic is blocked on Wilshire from east of the office building to just west of the Chase. An inquiry is made of the good-natured, husky young Latino fellow who coordinates traffic in Chase's parking area. He doesn't know. Like the questioner, he's not worried but naturally curious.

"Man, I've never seen anything happen with that building," he says. "I'm not even sure what's in there. Whatever it is, as long as they don't rob the bank." He chuckles, his broad, scrunchy-eyed smile framed by cool, spiky hair and an impressive goatee.

The police turnout, for an incident undetectable at street level, is impressive. How many police officers can run into an ordinary-looking office building? Then it seems to turn into a version of clown car. Are cops actually exiting from a backdoor and running back around to the front?

A few folks milling near the front sidewalk are equally puzzled. The police keep everyone away from the front doors. A bystander says he heard there's a guy inside with a gun, a few floors up in a law office.

Whatever is going on feels weirdly congruent with a general buzz in the air. It's holiday time. L.A. is in that soft, late-December calm.

Inexplicably, a man exits the building. He stops to talk, explaining that police roaming inside have their guns drawn. Guns drawn, he repeats.

The man making the deposit, in a moment of brazen impetuousness, decides to walk closer to the front doors. A laser-serious cop barks: "Sir, what's your name?" It's an odd question in the circumstances, but the first name is given, although not used by the officer in his very firm but professional reply: "Please leave. Walk away from the premises."

The Chase parking-area guy quips: "Maybe someone's just upset they couldn't get the day off work."

It's black humor — as good a way as any of dealing with such incidents.

Later someone from inside the building confirms that a man had indeed pulled a gun at a law firm. But after the police showed up, the man somehow slipped away, sneaking through a wall of officers and disappearing into the anonymity of Mid-City, the Ghost of Christmas Disgruntled.

The chill of possible murder disappears like the previous week's rain. Bystanders shrug and walk away.


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