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After-Action Review

Police Under Attack: Southern California Law Enforcement Response to the Attacks by Christopher Dorner

Publication Date

June 2015


National Policing Institute


The National Policing Institute has released an in-depth multi-media review and analysis of the police response to the attacks by a former Los Angeles Police Department officer, who killed four people and substantially raised the threat level for Southern California law enforcement for 10 days in February 2013. Click here to view the online multi-media report.

In a case that crossed the boundaries of five of the nation’s most populous counties, and involved law enforcement from multiple jurisdictions, the National Policing Institute found that the agencies worked to find ways to cooperate and support each other to a high degree. With the benefit of hindsight, however, the Foundation identified a number of challenges that need to be addressed for future incidents involving multiple public safety agencies.

“This incident represents a sentinel event in American policing – one that serves as a warning of needed changes in the public safety system,” said National Policing Institute President Jim Bueermann, who put the Foundation’s review team together. “A trained former police officer was hunting police officers and their families, exploiting geo-political, jurisdictional and technological boundaries and using legally-acquired, sophisticated, high-powered weaponry.”

The report prepared by a team of experienced law enforcement professionals found that Southern California officers and deputies performed heroically and with a high level of professionalism during an incident in which many believed that their lives – and their families – could be under attack. The report examines policies and practices that policing agencies should consider modifying regarding regional responses and large-scale incidents. The observations are focused on Southern California law enforcement, but these lessons can be applied elsewhere.

Additional findings included:

  • Agencies should develop comprehensive plans for regional response, including procedures for communication and cooperation while operating in jurisdictions outside their normal regional operating environment. Regular inter-agency cooperation across county lines should be encouraged to develop ties that smooth working relationships during major incidents.
  • Law enforcement leaders should carefully examine their self-deployment policies, and explore how these policies could be adapted for regional events. Hundreds of officers streamed into the San Bernardino Mountains when the suspect was cornered. The results were clogged roads and an over-abundance of law enforcement that distracted incident commanders and created a potentially dangerous situation
  • As in other large scale responses across cities and counties, interoperability is a major challenge for law enforcement agencies.  From examination of the Dorner events, communication between agencies contributed to confusion and delays in two officer-involved shootings during the incident. Interoperability is an issue that needs to be more closely examined by federal, state, and local officials and continues to be a national law enforcement problem
  • All personnel should receive regular training in major-incident response systems like the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

The report, which is dedicated to the memory of those murdered by Dorner, coincided with the entry of the names of the officers killed in the California Peace Officers Memorial in Sacramento. They have also been memorialized at the National Peace Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. during National Police Week.

Recommended Citation

National Policing Institute. (2015). Police under attack: Southern California law enforcement response to the attacks by Christopher Dorner. https://www.policinginstitute.org/publication/police-under-attack-southern-california-law-enforcement-response-to-the-attacks-by-christopher-dorner/