City leaders on Monday agreed to spend a federal grant on a firing range rather than divert it to prevent officer layoffs.
Police officials have long argued that the city’s outdoor shooting range near Felts Field is in serious need of safety and other upgrades. Voters in March 2009 rejected a public safety property tax that would have included money for a new range. Assistant Chief Jim Nicks said that since that vote, the department has decided to make “piecemeal” improvements as money becomes available through grants and other sources.
City Councilman Jon Snyder argued that a U.S. Department of Justice law enforcement grant should be used instead to save positions of neighborhood resource officers, even if the grant could save only a couple.
“I’m not sure it’s the appropriate time to invest in the firing range,” Snyder said in an interview after the meeting. “When push comes to shove, I would rather have more officers out there.”
Unless unions agree to contract concessions, the city expects to eliminate 47 positions in the Police Department next year. Last week 65 police employees received layoff or demotion notices.
Council President Joe Shogan questioned the financial wisdom of diverting grant money to salaries when there’s no guarantee the grant will be available in future years. He called the condition of the current range “abhorrent.”
“I was in the military,” said Shogan, a Vietnam veteran. “The last thing you want to do – and I’ve been shot at by our own friendly fire – is to have somebody out there not knowing what they’re doing. We probably have too many people like that right now that have the ability to have firearms.”
Snyder was the lone vote against spending the grant for the range. Councilwoman Amber Waldref was absent.
Nicks said full renovation of the range is estimated to cost about $1.6 million. The $243,000 Justice Department grant that was debated Monday is shared by other law enforcement agencies in Spokane County. About $153,000 will go toward the range, including a rifle targeting system. Most of the rest will go to various programs in the Spokane County sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices, Nicks said.
“We need a facility in order to be able to provide the best training possible,” Nicks said. “We’re better off having fewer officers that are well trained, well equipped than a bunch of officers that are poorly trained, poorly equipped.”
Next week, the council will vote on a no-bid $183,000 contract with Mancom Target Systems for a pistol target system that would be purchased using a separate Justice Department grant. Nicks said the contract wasn’t put out to bid because Mancom is the only company that makes a system sufficiently compatible for Spokane’s weather.