Officer Justin Stubbendick picked up a mangled piece of a bullet from the floor of the Janesville Police Department’s indoor pistol range.
Stubbendick, the range coordinator, was making a point as he showed the fragment to a Gazette photographer and reporter on Thursday.
He was standing up-range from the targets. Bullets—thousands of them each year—are fired down-range. They pierce the paper targets with the image of a bad guy and crash into angled steel plates at the end of the range.
The bullets ricochet up, hit more steel plates overhead and then drop. The impacts make the bullets shatter, their hard-metal coatings and lead innards turning into tiny pieces of shrapnel. Those pieces fall into trays set into the concrete floor.
But the shrapnel Stubbendick picked up was at the opposite end of the 25-yard-long range, where officers shoot as they train or complete their state-required annual firearms qualifications.
“We’re having ricochets coming from down-range. It’s a safety issue,” said Sgt. Mark Ratzlaff, who was along for the tour.
The steel plates are well over 30 years old. They’re warped and nicked and don’t do the job as well as they did when the building was new.
Only one person has been injured by flying shrapnel, a minor cut on the hand, Ratzlaff said.
Also not doing the job as well as it did when the range was built off Read Road on the city’s south side is its air-handling system.
Lead dust is another product of shattering bullets, and while the poisonous metal is not at dangerous levels, the air quality could be better.
An engineer told officers they’d have to be in the range every day for eight hours a day for the levels of lead ingestion to be hazardous, Ratzlaff said.
Even so, when Stubbendick collects shrapnel from the floor, he wears a rebreather to guard against the lead dust he stirs up.
Plans call for replacing the bullet collector and air-handling system this year at a cost of about $625,000.
The project also involves removing moveable partitions intended to create realistic training situations. The partitions and related support structures impede airflow, making the air-cleaning less efficient, the officers said.
Partitions that separate the shooting lanes also will be removed. Partitions to separate one officer from another is not realistic, Stubbendick pointed out.
The new bullet collector will have new technology that uses granular or shredded rubber to slow down and absorb the bullets instead of steel. The system is expected to make less noise and to keep bullets from fragmenting. That means fewer bullet particles in the air, reducing exposure to lead and other metals.
Costs also will go down, Ratzlaff said. Now, a contractor clears out all the bullet fragments at a cost of about $5,000 a year. The new collector will be able to handle many more rounds before it needs to be cleaned.
Yes, the metal fragments are recycled, not buried in a landfill.
The new system will handle rifles as well as handguns. Now, rifles are fired in an old sandpit next to the range building.
The range is used frequently. Training requirements have increased, and other agencies, including Beloit police, State Patrol, FBI, and the smaller surrounding police departments rent range time, Ratzlaff said. The U.S. Capitol Police also used it when they were guarding then-Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville.
“It will be the most modern range in this area when it’s done,” Stubbendick said.