Police Once Scoffed at Gun Range Hazard

May 8, 2009 at 5:47 pm

The Cincinnati Police Department is seeking $400,000 to make improvements to its target range in Evendale after a ricocheting bullet flew over a concrete wall and broke the windshield on a citizen’s car.

But when city officials considered moving the target range in 1999, the police union opposed the move and called any safety concerns overblown.—-

Then-Mayor Roxanne Qualls and City Council began the process a decade ago to move Cincinnati’s target range out of Evendale so nearby Lincoln Heights — a mostly low-income area — could annex the 30-acre site and use it for economic development projects. The Police Department and the local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) successfully blocked the sale, stating that sharing another facility would hurt training and jeopardize public safety.

Besides helping with economic development, Qualls and City Council had also responded to concerns from Lincoln Heights’ village manager about problems with noise and stray shell casings from the target range.

At the time, Officer Keith Fangman was the FOP’s president. He said the nearest homes are about a half-mile away, separated from the range by a large wooded area, and that a large concrete wall would trap any stray bullets, according to The Cincinnati Post. Fangman had called the safety concerns a “smokescreen” to help Lincoln Heights. Police didn’t like a proposal to share a target range with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office.

Then-Lincoln Heights Mayor Lovey Andrews said, “We really wanted that land because it's unsafe. We hear guns all day long, from 6 a.m. until after 10 at night.”

Now that a bullet escaped the range and broke the windshield of an unoccupied car, the department has shifted its stance. It wants to use $400,000 from a federal grant to install a roof to partially enclose the range, and buy a steel funnel mechanism to capture spent stray bullets.

Explaining the request, Assistant Police Chief James Whalen recently told The Cincinnati Enquirer that officers must take “time away from the training to get down and pick all that stuff up.”

The money would come from the federal Byrne Justice Assistance grant, which is bolstered this year by additional cash from President Obama’s economic stimulus package. The total amount this year is about $2.8 million.

Federal guidelines require Cincinnati and Hamilton County to agree on how the grant is spent, because the jails and court system is operated by the county. In past years, the city and county have equally divided the money but the Cincinnati Police Department tried to keep the entire amount this year.

After county commissioners balked and complained to Mayor Mark Mallory, he ordered that the money be split once again. Cincinnati will get $1.4 million and Hamilton County will get about $1.2 million, with the city keeping $200,000 as an administrative fee.

The money is expected to arrive soon. Cincinnati City Council will discuss how to spend its share in a May 18 hearing before its Law Committee.