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Shooting prompts LAPD to review security measures at the front desks of police stations

Police officers stand outside the Wilshire station on Tuesday, April 8, 2014. A gunman entered the lobby the night before and opened fire, striking one police officer before he was hit by return fire.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC
Police officers stand outside the Wilshire station on Tuesday, April 8, 2014. A gunman entered the lobby the night before and opened fire, striking one police officer before he was hit by return fire.

Los Angeles police are reassessing whether security changes are needed at the front desks of police stations after a gunman opened fire two weeks ago inside the lobby of a Mid-City police station, wounding one officer.

“We want to look at front desk operations and see if there’s any way we can make it safer for both our officers that work there and for the general public that comes in there,” said LAPD Commander Andrew Smith.

Chief Charlie Beck tweeted last Thursday that he met with the officers who work at West Traffic Division.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck

That is where Daniel Yealu, 29, is accused of walking into the lobby around 8:30 p.m. on April 7 saying he had a complaint and opened fire. Two officers returned fire.

One officer was hit several times and survived the shooting, despite not wearing a bulletproof vest. Yealu was shot several times and remains hospitalized in critical condition. He's been charged with attempted murder and is being held on $3.3 million bail.

Two weeks ago, police supervisors conducted an inspection at LAPD stations to see how many officers assigned to front desks were wearing bullet proof vests.

LAPD field officers are required to wear bullet proof vests, but officers at the front desks of police stations aren’t classified as being in a field position, so the vests are not mandatory.

“I know plenty of officers that wear their body armor religiously but I can’t say that they all do,” Smith said.

The LAPD commander declined to go into details about what security changes are being considered. He said they are evaluating the number of officers stationed at front desks, the weapons available to them, security procedures and any retroactive building modifications that may be needed.

But he said the idea of locking down buildings or adding glass windows at counters would dramatically change the atmosphere at LAPD police stations and may leave visitors with the impression they are entering a fortress.

Related: LAPD shooting: How to secure a police station that is open to the public?

The LAPD is set to break ground next month on a new $22.5 million Northeast area police station on San Fernando Road near Glendale Boulevard, according to commercial builder Bernards, which was selected to complete the project.

The 56,000-square foot police station, set to open in 2016, will include holding cells and a blast-proof exterior.

Tim Holt is senior principal at Holt Architects, a Riverside County-based firm specializing in designing civic projects, including some law enforcement buildings.

“Most of the police stations now are being constructed more as community buildings,” Holt said.

Police stations are sometimes attached to public libraries or community rooms where portions of the building are directly accessible by the public. Other parts are intentionally inaccessible in order to isolate parts of the police station.

Holt said for that reason it’s more important to find materials and design features that can protect the staff inside.

“We always use a type of ballistic glazing or glass, which is bullet resistant, to protect people at the entry counter,” he said. “In solid portions of walls, we use a bullet resistant fiber board. It’s not seen from the outside.”

Holt said there have been a number of violent incidents at police stations, like the one at the LAPD West Traffic Division lobby. Cities are now asking architects for more ways to protect the people inside.

About three years ago, a man in Detroit entered a police precinct with a shotgun and shot two officers in a hallway and two more at the front desk. An article in Police Magazine reported that Detroit police evaluated the lobby after the shooting and found security gaps:

Architects and police officials said they want to strike a balance between creating an inviting police lobby – especially when children and victims of crime are often patrons – and embedding security measures to protect the staff and public who use the building.