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CBS4 Investigates: Military Gear Handed Over To S. Florida Police

MIAMI (CBSMiami) - The images out of Ferguson, Missouri were alarming as officers resembling soldiers were going head-to-head with protesters.  CBS4 has learned the military gear being used by police in Ferguson is being used by police in South Florida.

Police officers in South Florida have the same military gear, military issued weapons, and drive similar retired military grade vehicles.

CBS4's investigative unit is still pouring over the volumes of paper detailing military surplus that's been handed over to law enforcement agencies across Florida for free.

The government's "1033 Program" moves military surplus from the battlefield to our neighborhood.

Some of it is not impressive. Broward County has 4 utility trucks.  Monroe County has 34 assault rifles, a cargo plane, and a helicopter through the program.  Miami-Dade has acquired far more gear than both counties combined.

The list is quite lengthy and added up to nearly $4.5 million in military freebies acquired over the last 8 years.  CBS4 found 250 assault rifles from the Vietnam era, two military grade helicopters, and four mine resistant ambush protection vehicles worth $2.7 million.  Also of interest were five M79 grenade launchers.

"Why do we need grenade launchers in our community?" was the question CBS4's David Sutta asked Ray Martinez, Miami Beach former police chief.  "Grenade launchers are also used to launch smoke and tear gas.  They are not launching fragmentation grenades," Martinez responded.  Martinez spent 35-years in law enforcement.  He's worn the military gear, ridden in it, and deployed it for events.

Click here to WATCH CBS4's David Sutta's report 

He explained, "The old analogy of bringing a knife to a gun fight.  A lot of the times law enforcement has been outgunned.  You usually carry a handgun and a couple of magazines.  A lot of these guys are coming with high powered weapons and even bombs."  Martinez says the evolution of military equipped police officers evolved from a need to better protect officers.

As criminals have resorted to high-powered weapons, bombs, and the like, police have had to response accordingly.

"We don't have the luxury of calling in the military or Seal Team 6 to handle that for us.  I wish we could but we are the last line of defense.  And what we've learned is, especially in the school shootings, you have to response immediately, you can't sit back and wait," Martinez said.

Do you use that military gear against civil disobedience?  "That's a hard question and I don't want to second guess what's going on," Martinez said.

He agrees the armored cars and riffles may be fine in a shootout but when used against civilians, it's questionable.  "You have to use restraint because you don't want to escalate the crowd, and I think that's what you may be seeing a little bit of," he said.

Case in point, in Ferguson, when police amped up their gear, the crowd responded accordingly.

CBS4's investigative unit is still looking at all the documents.  So far, CBS4 has found what they got for free.  There may be a lot more that has been purchased with grants.


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