Fate of firing range for Chattanooga and Hamilton County to be decided

Fate of firing range for Chattanooga and Hamilton County to be decided

November 20th, 2013 by Louie Brogdon in Local - Breaking News

An empty lot that is a possible space for a new indoor shooting range for the Chattanooga Police Department and Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

Hamilton County commissioners will decide today whether the county will pay $550,000 extra for the indoor police firing range the county is building with Chattanooga's government.

Sheriff Jim Hammond hopes they vote to kick in the extra cash, but some commissioners say Hammond -- and Chattanooga police Chief Bobby Dodd -- will have to make do with a trimmed version of the planned 24,000-square-foot facility in the 700 block of East 12th Street.

The old police range on Moccasin Bend is being turned over to the National Park Service, so the indoor range is needed to train the city and county's 1,200 sworn officers.

Hammond first came to commissioners last month asking for the extra cash, after architects from Franklin Associates Architects reported the project would cost $1.05 million more than the original $4 million price.

The county has been asked to pay $550,000 extra, according to the resolution. The city is expected to pick up the rest. Already, each government has committed $1.5 million, and a $1 million grant paid for range equipment.

Commission Chairman Fred Skillern said last week he supports the range, but it should be built at the original price, and architects need to cut out classroom space to make it happen.

Commissioner Larry Henry echoed that sentiment Monday.

"I think we need a range, there's no doubt about that. But I think it needs to be done within the original budget," he said.

According to project schematics, the range area is 12,154 square feet and costs $996,000 to build, while the training area -- which includes offices, classrooms and bathrooms -- is 12,333 square feet and will cost $1.08 million.

But Hammond said the classroom space is essential. He said state Peace Officer Standards and Training rules state officers need classroom instruction to stay qualified.

"The requirements under POST are that you have eight hours every year, and four have to be in the classroom," Hammond said.

His deputies meet that standard, "barely," Hammond said.

"The standards say that the minimum is once a year to the range, but most agencies, like Chattanooga, go two," Hammond said. "We stay barely in the requirements, and that's once a year."

But the four-hour classroom requirement is actually specific to Hamilton County, according to Kate Abernathy, a state spokeswoman.

"The training plan is at the discretion of the training officer. Generally, they like to do two hours of classroom and six hours of range training. The training officer at the department sends the training plan to POST for approval," Abernathy said.

Scheduling is the problem. Right now, it takes 48 days minimum to get 1,200 police officers on the Moccasin Bend range for at least eight hours. They can't shoot in the dark, or in the rain, so there's only one effective shift a day that can hold a maximum of 25 officers.

The indoor range will be open to police 24 hours a day, rain or shine, and Hammond -- or Dodd -- will be able to schedule training more easily.

That could make the indoor range three times as effective at getting officers through their required training -- if training shifts are scheduled around the clock.

Three shifts of 25 officers could train daily, which could get all 1,200 requalified in 16 days.

That would open the facility up for officers to train on their own -- or for other municipalities to use the range for a fee.

"As far as their official training, we'll schedule it, but any officer can go on their own time, and they can go 24 hours a day. We will even pay for some of the additional ammunition," Hammond said. "We would hope once we get our range up and running, if we have the time, other agencies could come in and train [for a fee] and we could use some of those proceeds to cover costs."

Commissioners will vote on the extra funding at the commission's regular 9:30 a.m. meeting at the Hamilton County Courthouse.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.