Firearms training isn’t optional for police officers.
Wisconsin mandates at least 24 hours of annual training, and Janesville officers often go past the minimum requirement, Chief Dave Moore told The Gazette.
Officers are required to qualify with firearms twice a year by passing tests related to target acquisition, marksmanship and more. In addition, Janesville officers train with rifles once a year.
Firearms training is essential because shootings, although rare, are high-risk events. When officers have to fire their weapons “we’re responsible for where every one of those shots go, and with that comes a lot of training,” Moore said.
Last year, the police department went through more than $13,000 in ammunition, Moore said.
“There are state mandates in terms of qualifications, so yeah, every police officer in the state has to get to a range,” Moore said.
Moore recently declined to support a proposal to build a gun range for police in the town of Beloit. That’s partly because the La Prairie Pistol Range that Janesville police use already meets his department’s needs.
The Janesville facility off Reed Road features both indoor and outdoor ranges and is three miles from the police department.
“Could we go someplace else? We certainly could, but it’d be more cost to the city,” Moore said.
All the training Janesville officers go through makes access to a nearby gun range ideal, he said.
The town of Beloit facility would feature only an outdoor range and would be farther away, which would make it more difficult for Janesville police to respond to emergencies from training, Moore said.
Before the city built the La Prairie range in the early 1980s, Janesville police shot in a pit outdoors, something many departments still do today, Moore said.
The La Prairie range has eight indoor shooting lanes, where officers can train in different temperature and lighting conditions. They can access the facility and train any hour of the day or night, meaning third-shift officers don’t have to work overtime during the day to get in their training, Moore said.
The facility has a classroom used for instruction sometimes unrelated to shooting. Outdoors, police can use sniper and other rifles and even shoot at staged cars and through glass windows, he said.
The range costs a bit more than $5,000 a year to operate in gas and electricity.
However, the original bullet trap, which collects shot rounds, is nearing the end of its life. It would cost about $650,000 to replace and would last another 30 years, Moore said.
The ventilation system needs to be replaced as well, he said.
“It’s safe right now, but we know it’s old and tired,” Moore said. “We’re due for an upgrade down there.”
Several police departments besides Janesville’s rent and use the range, including the cities of Whitewater, Beloit, Milton, Evansville and Edgerton. It costs $100 to rent a four-hour time slot and $175 for an eight-hour time slot, which is “reasonable,” Moore said.
Last year, the range brought in $11,000 in rental fees, he said.
Nobody consulted the Janesville Police Department before the town of Beloit sent a letter to the department asking for its support for a planned outdoor range.
The letter says it’s not asking the department to commit any funds to the project “at this time,” which gave Moore pause. Based on the wording, he has a feeling if he voiced support, the town would ask for money later in the process. Moore declined support for that reason.
“I got this wonderful facility right here in town, and it doesn’t make sense we’d want to fund something far, far away and not use it,” he said.
Moore said local police departments often coordinate for cost savings. The Janesville and Beloit police and departments and Rock County Sheriff’s Office worked together to buy a Bearcat rescue vehicle. Different departments’ SWAT teams back each other up when necessary, Moore said.
“We’re always looking for where we can cooperate and call to save the taxpayer dollars, but with this issue there were no cost savings for our community,” he said.