Imagine yourself in this situation. You are the chief of a 117-person department located across the river from a medium-sized metropolitan area. You have several aggressive, proactive firearms instructors who are doing a bang-up job in training your officers with the firearm skills necessary for their survival.
They are using a fairly nice outdoor range, with a state-of-the-art computerized targeting system and several lanes that have been in use for more than 30 years by your department and 20 other agencies in the metro area. In your mind, you can check deadly force training and firearms skills off your list of things that you need to worry about. Life is good.
Then one day you go to work and find that you have to close that range immediately, that very day, because of safety issues including bullets leaving the range. One day, your firearms training regiment is humming along nicely, the next day, it’s broken on the side of the road.
No longer do you have the means to train and maintain the skills needed by your officers to protect the citizens they are sworn to defend or to defend their own lives from deadly force. Nor do you have the money in the budget to build a new facility. Suddenly, life is not so good.
That is exactly the situation I found myself in during the summer of 2002—no range and no prospects of building a new one. There was no other suitable range in the area that I could even borrow until I figured out what I could do to train my officers. My only real short-term solution was a private range owned by a local rifle and pistol club, which fortunately, was very friendly to the department.
So what do you do? Well, this series of articles will attempt to explain the steps that we took to build what I think is probably one of the nicest law enforcement training facilities in the country. I will start with the very first steps we took up to the opening of the new range. While not all of the steps might be necessary for your situation, some of them might help you build the facility you need to train your officers.
The first major problem you will face is where do you get the money for the range and how much do you need? Of course, everyone who has been a chief of police for more than eight hours will realize that in order to get capital money, you will have to have political allies, whether it be a mayor, city administrator and council, a county board of supervisors or commissioners, or whoever your politicians are. You will need their full support.
I was fortunate to have a mayor who fully understood the importance of having ongoing firearms training for his police force. I involved him very early on in this situation, starting with the problems that led to closing the old range.
Although I had to keep after him about the importance of building a facility as quickly as possible, I had no problem convincing him of the importance of having a place to train. His buy-in and involvement was invaluable later in the process as I looked for money to build this facility with, not only from the city council, but from other sources as well. More about that later.
I also started very early trying to educate the citizens in the community about the need for a range. In this regard, your local newspaper can be very helpful if you can get them behind the project. I was fortunate that the editorial editor for our local newspaper was a police officer in a former life. I had little trouble explaining to him about how important it was to have a training facility for the police department.
He was behind the project from the get-go. I also write a column in the paper every other week and used that opportunity a couple of times to write about the need for a range. Every chance I had when talking to community leaders, I spoke about the need for the facility, so much that I think they got tired of me talking about the subject.
Once you build that community and political support, then how do you determine just how much money you are going to need to build that dream range? How do you know what type of equipment you want to use on the range?
Do we need an indoor or outdoor range? What type of bullet trap? Am I going to share this range and the responsibility of building and running it with any other agency? In the next segment, I will try to explain just what I did to answer those questions.
Keith Mehlin is the chief of the Council Bluff, IA Police Department. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, 182nd Session. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.