TAMPA — On one of the city's worst days — when a bank robber killed Master Patrol Officer Lois Marrero, then took a hostage — the Tampa Police Department's SWAT team was outside the city limits.
That day in 2001, SWAT team members were training at a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office shooting range in Lithia. It took them an hour to respond to the standoff where suspect Nester Luis DeJesus eventually committed suicide.
That's one reason a shooting range has been on the Tampa Police Department's wish list for years, and it's one reason the project is now in the works.
Tampa's 994 sworn officers are required by the state to meet qualification standards with their service weapons once a year, something they currently do at the sheriff's range.
For Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the advantages of having a training range inside city limits are simple.
"The closer they are to the range, the more they can practice," he said. "The more they practice, the better they are and the safer they are."
Tampa officials recently issued an invitation to companies interested in designing and building the gun range.
Responses are due May 9. The city hopes to break ground before the end of the year and to open the facility in 18 months to two years.
Funds for the $3.5 million project will come from Tampa's law enforcement trust fund, which consists of money seized from drug dealers and other felons.
The city plans to build the range behind its McKay Bay trash incinerator in a largely industrial area.
Police do not expect noise to be a problem. Last year, officials had 12 to 15 officers go to the site and shoot at targets while a sound consultant measured noise levels at points on a half-mile radius.
The result: In the areas where the nearest people would be, noise from traffic was louder than the gunfire, Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said. Moreover, she said, the test was conducted in the open, while the range will have concrete walls with baffling on top to reduce noise.
City officials expect building a range to save money as well as time.
Last year, Tampa officers used the sheriff's range 1,654 times for training and qualification, though McElroy said officers could train more frequently at a range inside the city.
"It's in everyone's best interest for them to train more often than once a year," she said.
Including the fees that Tampa pays the Sheriff's Office to use the facility, the cost of transportation and the time spent, police figure using the sheriff's range costs $265,000 a year.
As currently planned, the new facility will have two shooting ranges, a control tower for the range master, a training building with a classroom and a "shoot house," where officers can practice tactical and real-life shooting scenarios.
"It's hard to replicate what goes on out there in the street, but to the extent that we can make it as realistic as possible, the better off they are and the safer they are," Buckhorn said. "That's why facilities like this are so important for us and for them. You play on Sunday the way you practice during the week. I want them to be able to practice as much as they need to."
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.