1997 CA bank robbery led to police militarization - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

1997 CA bank robbery led to police militarization

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A 1997 bank robbery in CA leads to local police departments seeking high-powered rifles and military gear. (Source: KTLA/CNN) A 1997 bank robbery in CA leads to local police departments seeking high-powered rifles and military gear. (Source: KTLA/CNN)

LOS ANGELES (KTLA/KCAL/KCBS/CNN) – The recent images out of Ferguson, MO have been shocking and filled with police officers looking like they're going to war – but there's a reason why police are so armed.

Now-retired LAPD Officer John Caprarelli faced a scary scene in 1997 – people shooting at everyone, dressed for war outside of a Bank of America in North Hollywood in – and he was only armed with a .9 mm handgun.

The patched holes are still in the walls at the location, the bullets sliced through thecinder blockk wall like butter, narrowly missing him.

"It just exploded, boom. It went through us, past us,” Caprarelli said. "We were outgunned that day. That thing went on for 45 minutes because we were outgunned."

Hundreds outgunned by just two suspects, with responding officers even borrowed rifles from a nearby gun shop.

Yeah, we were a bunch of David's and there were two Goliaths," Caprarelli said.

The gun battle, televised live, stunned law enforcement across the country and sparked many departments to seek high-powered rifles and military gear.

A study by the ACLU estimates in 1990, the Department of Defense transferred $1 million worth of military equipment to local and state police. Last year, that amount jumped to nearly $450 million.

According to Caprarelli, every dollar spent is needed, especially in light of him running away after her shot one of the gunmen half a dozen times.

"You think when you shoot something, everything stops. It wasn't happening,” Caprarelli said. “We were all shooting and they were still going. You have to have something to combat what's thrown at you. It's obvious now, we've seen it. The criminal element has these weapons and they're not afraid to use them."

The shootout lasted 44 minutes, miraculously, no one was killed except the two gunmen. Two dozen others, but officers and civilians were wounded.

The legacy, felt in today's militarized local police, from Los Angeles to Ferguson, MO.

"Those guys are trying to do the job and thinking about, 'I want to go home at the end of the day.' They're trying to do the job they're hired and trained to do and still go home," Caprarelli said.

Copyright 2014 KTLA. KCAL, KCBS, LAPD via CNN. All rights reserved.

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