Opinion

City needs to move ahead on firing range

After years of pushing it to the back burner, the Port Orchard Police Department may finally be getting close to building its new indoor firing range.

According to Chief Al Townsend, Olympic College and the Kitsap County Emergency Readiness Center have approached the City of Port Orchard with an interest in the project and a partnership between the agencies is now a matter of working out the details.

“Basically, we’re establishing partnerships for the range,” said Townsend. “Once we secure those partnerships on paper, we can move forward.”

The facility, which would be used for target practice and tactical training, would replace the moldy, archaic, bare-bones outdoor range the Port Orchard Police Department maintains at the South Kitsap Industrial Park.

The current range, which officers have dubbed the “ghetto,” has also become a public hazard, officials believe. Townsend said there have been several reported incidents of unwary civilians hiking or riding on horseback straight through the path of gunfire.

Although the road to the range is gated and locked, the encroaching industrial park allows people to unknowingly access the range site from the sides or back.

“It’s adequate for what we use it for, but there’s a concern for liability issues as the industrial park grows,” Townsend said.

The city of Port Orchard has already invested $10,000 in the project to fund the initial drawings, provided by local architect Tom Herstad, and Townsend expects the city will contribute up to an additional $175,000 and a resolution could be placed on the City Council’s agenda to approve a partnership with Olympic College.

Townsend estimates Olympic College will end up paying roughly one-third of the total cost of the project — approximately $500,000 — if an agreement is reached.

In the meantime, the price tag has gone up. The project was originally estimated at $1.3 million but Townsend said the range could actually cost as much as $1.7 million, due to the equipment needed to fulfill the level of training needed to secure partnerships with Olympic College and federal agencies.

On the plus side, having a state-of-the-art gun range of their own will not only benefit the training of Port Orchard Police personel, but the facility would also attract users from other jurisdictions.

Townsend said other law enforcement agencies including the Poulsbo, Bainbridge Island and Bremerton Police Departments, the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department and the Washington State Patrol have already asked about the proposed facility. The Gig Harbor Police Department and other agencies in Pierce, Jefferson and even Mason County could also lease the range their officers.

It had been hoped that private citizens could also use the facility, but it now appears security requirements make that unlikely. Still, between user fees charged to regional law enforcement agencies and federal grant money, the cost to city residents would be minimal — and certainly well worth the benefit of a well-trained municipal police force.

“It’s absolutely critical that we’re trained,” Townsend said. “We don’t use our guns every day so training is such a key part of it. It’s also a state requirement and a public safety issue. The officers need to learn when to shoot and when not to shoot, and the range teaches that.”

Bottom line: A new police gun range not only makes Port Orchard residents safer, but fills a regional law enforcement need so great that other police agencies will ultimately share the cost of building it.

The only question is what are we waiting for?

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