Proposals are in the works for constructing a permanent firearms training facility for the Arlington County Police Department and Sheriff’s Office. The preferred plan involves upgrading and expanding a facility on the Dulles International Airport property, which Arlington police currently shared with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) police.
Arlington does not have its own facility for such training, and had been sharing Alexandria’s until 2008. At that time, it was determined that Alexandria’s use had grown to such a point that it could no longer accommodate the more than 350 ACPD members and more than 100 Sheriff’s Office members as well. Arlington has been using the MWAA police shooting range since then.
The Dulles facility is said to need upgrades and an expansion. Right now, it houses a 15 point outdoor range, but under the new plan would expand to include two 25 point firing ranges and a 300 yard rifle deck. The facility currently has no shelter from weather, no running water or fixed restrooms and no classroom space.
An alternative to upgrading the Dulles range would be to find enough land on which to build a training facility within the Arlington County limits. That, however, does not appear to be a viable option, according to Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz.
“We don’t have the land to do it. Having a firing range within the confines of the county would present some difficulties,” said Schwartz. “Try to find 21 acres in Arlington and just think of the cost.”
Arlington County lists the project in its 2013-2022 Capital Improvement Plan. The proposed price tag of $12 million, $7 million of which would be provided by Arlington County, may seem daunting to some, such as former Arlington County Board candidate Audrey Clement. She spoke at the County Board Public Budget Hearing last Tuesday (March 26), likening the firing range to other county funded projects she considers wasteful, such as Artisphere, the aquatics center at Long Bridge Park and the Columbia Pike streetcar.
“The project’s justification says that the firing range is needed because the one currently in use at Dulles lacks running water, fixed restroom facilities and covered firing points,” she said. “Does providing those facilities actually cost seven million plus dollars? If so, the NRA has a state-of-the-art shooting range just off the I-66, Route 50 exit that offers training for law enforcement personnel. If this range works for the NRA, and they are highly successful, why won’t it work for Arlington police?”
Partnering with the NRA is not feasible, according to Schwartz.
“That comment, I could spend an hour telling you why her suggestion was impractical,” Schwartz said. “I really think the perception would be that this is a ‘nice to have thing.’ I don’t think the county manager or the police chief or sheriffs think this is a ‘nice to have thing.’ This is a very basic part of their training and skills that they need to have.”
ACPD Deputy Chief Jay Farr added that the current cost is a good deal when taking into consideration that MWAA is footing $5 million of the total bill, in addition to supplying the land, which Schwartz estimates to be worth at least $5 million.
“The possibility of expanding and upgrading the facility is something we’ve been budgeting for,” said MWAA spokesman Rob Yingling. “We’ve been working with Arlington County to expand, but nothing has been finalized yet.”
Farr believes the costs involved with acquiring new land and beginning new construction would far exceed what’s already budgeted.
“We looked at building a bare minimum indoor range in case we couldn’t find the land,” Farr said. “You’re still talking about five to six million dollars just to build a facility that does nothing more than offer 25 yard paper target shooting.”
Farr notes that police training has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, from only using stationary targets to taking on more advanced, engaged scenarios. He says officers are now far better prepared to handle more complex situations, such as mass shootings or terrorist situations.
“People think that when you qualify with a firearm, you go and shoot at a paper target. Technically, you could meet the minimum state qualifications by shooting at a paper target, but that by no means trains your staff for the situations they need to be ready for,” Farr said. “Less than 10 percent of total time on the range focuses on the core minimum of shooting at a paper target. Ninety percent of the time we focus on tactical and response training. We do a lot of things like coming out of a vehicle and running to certain points. Those things are totally impossible in an enclosed facility.”
So far, no facility design has been finalized. Both the Arlington County Board and the MWAA Board need to approve contracts for design and construction before moving forward. That’s expected to happen sometime in the next few months, and construction could possibly begin by the end of this year. Once it begins, construction is expected to take about one year to complete. Police would continue using the existing facility for training during construction.
“For our purposes, it is very much a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to build something of this capacity, this close to the county,” Farr said. “We don’t want to not take advantage of it.”
Photo courtesy Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority