New Times Story Prompts U.S. Government to Prevent Miami Beach From Receiving $1 Million Military Truck

This past Wednesday, New Times reported that the City of Coral Gables, which obtained two mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored military trucks (MRAPs) from the U.S. Department of Defense, was "graciously" donating one of the tank-like vehicles to Miami Beach. That city said it needed the truck to drive through flooded areas and protect residents in the event of an active-shooter attack. City Manager Jimmy Morales wrote in a memo that the "trade" would save Miami Beach $500,000 to $1 million.

One problem: Trading Department of Defense military equipment isn't actually legal. And had the two cities gone forward with the trade, that move would have circumvented the Defense Department's "justification" process, whereby the U.S. government double-checks to make sure local police actually need the equipment they want.

The U.S. Defense Logistics Agency's Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) handles the Department of Defense's 1033 program, which lets local police departments obtain surplus military equipment for the cost of shipping and handling. Today, an agency spokesperson, Michelle McCaskill, told New Times that after reading our story, a LESO representative in Florida contacted the Miami Beach and Coral Gables police departments and killed the trade.

"He told them that kind of trade is not permissible under the program," McCaskill said via phone. Miami Beach is "new to the program," she added, and said the city didn’t know that military-grade equipment trades were illegal.

Miami Beach Police spokesperson Ernesto Rodriguez said via email the department is "currently looking into how best to complete the transfer consistent with DOD rules and will continue to pursue the matter."

But both Miami Beach and Coral Gables were given fairly clear rules to follow when they signed up for Defense Department gear. When police forces sign up for the 1033 program, they first sign a "Memorandum of Agreement," which outlines, in no uncertain terms, that LESO controls what happens to the equipment. McCaskill then provided a sample memorandum to New Times.

"All transfers must be approved by DLA Disposition Services LESO," the memorandum says.

It goes on:

LESO conditionally transfers all excess DOD property to States/LEAs enrolled in the LESO Program. Title or ownership of controlled property will remain with LESO in perpetuity and will not be relinquished to States/LEAs. When the State/LEA no longer has a legitimate law enforcement use for controlled property, the State/LEA must notify LESO and the controlled property must either be transferred to another enrolled LEA (via standard transfer process) or returned to DLA Disposition Services for disposal. LESO reserves the right to recall controlled and non-controlled property issued through the LESO program at any time.
There's a good reason the Department of Defense structures the 1033 program this way: When law enforcement agencies request military-grade items from the federal government, police must provide a "justification" for why they need the gear. This ensures that a Podunk in suburban Iowa doesn't end up with two dozen MRAPs for no reason.

A trade such as the one proposed between Coral Gables and Miami Beach would have leapfrogged that justification process. But McCaskill stressed that it seemed like both cities were simply unaware of her agency's rules. It seems they didn't purposely flout them.

She added that Miami Beach now plans to apply for an armored truck the legal way.

"Right now, there's a waitlist for MRAPs," she said.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.