The FBI on Monday marked the 30th anniversary of a bloody South Florida shootout with violent bank robbers that left two agents dead and five wounded, leading to changes in the weapons, body armor and tactics throughout law enforcement nationwide.
FBI Director James Comey said at a ceremony that the April 11, 1986, gunbattle in Miami's Pinecrest suburb showed U.S. law enforcement drastically needed to update equipment and training to face criminals who were increasingly using military-grade weapons. For example, FBI agents began carrying easier-to-reload semiautomatic handguns rather than revolvers.
"It changed our equipment, it changed our training, it changed the way we think about our work," Comey told several hundred people at the FBI's South Florida headquarters. "Armaments, body armor and training and deployment were an important lesson from the painful loss 30 years ago."
Agents Jerry L. Dove and Benjamin P. Grogan were killed in the firefight, which was the bloodiest single day in FBI history. Robbery suspects Michael Lee Platt, a former Army Ranger in Vietnam, and William Russell Matix also died. They were suspected of several other killings and violent bank robberies.
Among their weapons was a Ruger Mini-14 rifle that outmatched anything the FBI agents had on hand, leaving the agents pinned down amid 130 rounds of gunfire lasting about five minutes. The suspects were finally stopped by wounded Agent Edmundo Mireles firing a pump shotgun and handgun as the two tried to steal a car to escape, according to the FBI's history of the event.
That shotgun, the robbers' weapons and the FBI credentials of Dove and Grogan are part of a memorial display inside the Miramar FBI building that Comey dedicated Monday. The memorial was privately funded by the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI.
Comey alluded to recent controversies around the country involving police shootings by saying he feared "cynicism" among young people toward law enforcement might lead fewer to consider that as a career. The agents involved in the shootout 30 years ago, he said, embodied the noblest of its traditions.
"They were people who had decided to do good for a living. Their job is to run toward danger," he said. "The entire world cries out for that kind of character."
Since the FBI's founding in 1908, 36 agents have been killed in what the bureau calls "adversarial actions."