Spokane County Sheriff Mark Sterk wants deputies to shoot straight.
But finding time at the Spokane Police Academy shooting range has become a concern. So, Sterk said, he and his staff are hoping to spend $750,000 to build the county’s own range and storage building at one of two county-owned sites.
“It’s a liability issue, plain and simple,” Sterk said. “If you don’t train these people to do one of the most important things out there for us – and that’s shooting – we are going to get ourselves into danger as a law enforcement agency. We don’t want to face that.”
Because of budget issues in 1999, the Sheriff’s Office cut back on shooting training, which had been scheduled four times a year. But as deputies’ shooting scores slipped, Sterk decided to return to the quarterly training.
Then in March 2003, Spokane Police began charging the county $6,000 a year for those training sessions at the police range, Sterk said. And more recently, the Spokane Police Academy range has been too busy to schedule all the necessary training for deputies.
“And so we are looking for a place to build a professional shooting range for the Sheriff’s Office so we don’t run into that problem,” Sterk said. “We have to accomplish that training.”
To cover the rest of this year, Spokane County will pay $1,500 to Center Target Sports, a full-service indoor shooting range and training facility in Post Falls.
Under that contract, deputies can train there as long as they show their Sheriff’s Office identification, Sterk said.
Spokane police Lt. Scott Johnson, who supervises training at the academy, said the city started charging the county and state agencies to use the range to help pay for maintenance and new targets there.
“I think we just realized that everybody is using our facility, and there is a lot of upkeep and upgrading, too,” Johnson said. “We figured everybody is using it. Everybody should help pay for it.”
Sterk said he holds no grudge about the charges, but it’s another item to add to the budget, which is another reason Sterk wants to develop the county property.
The Sheriff’s Office is spending about $40,000 a year for rent of a building to store vehicles seized as part of drug and other investigations, he said.
“The money we are spending on rent right now should be invested into a storage building,” Sterk said. “And it will include some classrooms. And we will put it next to the range.”
The facility would house the county’s soon-to-be-operational helicopter, its mobile command vehicle and an emergency command vehicle. It also would include locker rooms for the volunteer helicopter pilots.
“We are asking commissioners in next year’s budget for $750,000 to put this together,” Sterk said. “This is one of the top priorities for the commissioners in our budget next year. We hope to have it done by next summer.”
The county owns the two proposedsites, both gravel mines. One inactive mine is on about 23 acres on Keeney Road, which is west of U.S. Highway 195 and north of Paradise Road. The other site is in an industrial area that borders Flora Road in Spokane Valley.
Three homes are located near the Keeney site. But all are occupied by retired police officers or retired police officers’ families, Sterk said. “So we don’t anticipate any problems with the neighbors,” he said.
The Flora site would eliminate any neighbor problems.
“This is a great spot to put the range and not worry about housing projects being built up around the shooting range,” he said.
Sterk said he doesn’t know whether county commissioners will be willing to fork over $750,000. The request will be included in the Sheriff Office’s proposed 2006 spending plan, which Sterk will send to commissioners this fall.
“If we don’t ask for it, then we don’t get the opportunity to get the discussion on the table,” Sterk said. “If nothing else, it puts it on the radar screen for the future.”