Thirty years ago today, a history lesson in why police carry “assault rifles”

Time for a somewhat serious post…

Over the weekend, the Associated Press did a story about university campus police buying rifles. Many on social media passed the article around. Questions arose if campus cops needed rifles. Likewise, many on social media questioned the use of so-called “Assault Rifles” by any police officer.

I saw one comment where a person asked “Name me one instance a police got killed because they did not have military rifles”

Well, anonymous internet commenter here is your answer… April 11, 1986 in Miami Florida. Two FBI agents, Jerry Dove, and Ben Grogan, lost their lives in a shootout with two bank robbers. During the shootout, five other FBI agents were seriously wounded.

The shootout happened when agents were driving around an area two serial bank robber had been targeting. They were just cruising the streets hoping to see the suspect’s vehicle. When agents did see the car a chase ensued which ended in a crash in a residential neighborhood.

There were eight FBI agents aginst two bank robbers. The robbers were outnumbered, yet they had the agents out-gunned. All the FBI agents carried handguns, mostly revolvers but a few had 9mm semi-auto pistols. One agent had a 12-guage shotgun loaded with buckshot. The suspects carried a shotgun, a mini-14 semi-auto rifle, and multiple handguns.

In less than five minutes about 145 rounds would be fired. Most of the rounds came from the mini-14, the suspects used the weapon for effective suppressive fire. Also, keep in mind one suspect was hit twelve times before he died. He kept fighting.

Hollywood did what is said to be a fairly accurate recreation of the event in the TV Movie “In the Line of Duty: The FBI Murders”. The scene from the movie is embedded below.

When reading the history of this event other agents had access to shotguns. However the weapons were in the trunk of the cars, they never had time or ability to open the truck to access the weapons. In addition, the local FBI office had rifles just not issued to this group of agents.

Yes, this is FBI agents not city or campus police. There are however parallels we can draw. Officers never know what we will encounter. These guys were driving around looking for robbery suspects. Every day officers are out driving around looking for possible suspects. We don’t know if the next call or traffic stop with have someone with a weapon or not.

Back in the day, the “scary” weapons were all kept back in the armory at the department. When the anticipated need for rifles came up then a supervisor could get them out. Think about this for a second, when the need comes up only then do we send someone to go get the tool that is needed. The reality is that violent situations happen without warning and are over fast.

So to the people who think there has never been a situation where police got killed due to not having a rifle. Twenty years ago from the date I write this (April, 11) it did happen.

Below is an embed of a video made by the FBI reconstructing the event. It also has interviews with some of the agents who survived and reflections on the lessons learned from this shooting.

Check out my new mystery novel called Fire Cop