TAMPA — Ever since their old shooting range was closed after bullets caromed into neighbors' houses, Tampa police have driven an hour to train at the Hillsborough County sheriff's range in Lithia.
Now that's going to change, thanks to a City Council vote Thursday to spend nearly $4.8 million on a new police shooting range and firearms training facility inside the city.
Counting previously approved funding, the total project cost is almost $5.4 million — too much for council member Yvonne Yolie Capin.
"Five million is a lot of money," said Capin, who asked for a delay but was outvoted by her colleagues. Mary Mulhern agreed, also suggesting the project could be seen as a step toward "militarizing" the police.
The other five council members approved the project, which police said would allow officers to train more often and be better prepared for high-risk confrontations.
"It's going to save lives or injuries in the future," Sgt. Jarrett Seal said.
"The thing that reduces deadly force and deadly force situations is the high-repetitive training that we can't really do now, logistically," Assistant Chief John Bennett said. He noted that a recent study focusing on Richmond, Va., showed that repetitive training helped reduce the number of police shootings.
The city will pay Integra Construction Group of Tampa about $4.1 million to design and build the facility in an industrial area behind the city's McKay Bay trash incinerator.
The outdoor firing range will have nearly 60 shooting lanes and will be enclosed by three walls, with baffle roofing to keep bullets from going outside the range. Its three structures will include a classroom and office building and a "shoot house" with moveable inside walls where officers will be able to simulate a variety of real-life scenarios.
An additional $689,000 will go to Action Target of Provo, Utah, for a bullet recovery and target system to be installed at the range. The containment system is designed to be environmentally friendly, automatically collecting spent bullets to a drum for safe disposal.
Police do not expect noise to be a problem. In a test, a dozen or more officers went to the site and shot at targets while a sound consultant measured noise levels at points on a half-mile radius. The tests showed that in populated areas closest to the range, noise from traffic was louder.
Tampa's 994 sworn officers are required by the state to meet qualification standards with their service weapons once a year.
Police used to train at the Tampa Pistol and Rifle Club on Old Memorial Highway, but it went silent in 1995 after stray rounds hit homes in the nearby Countryway subdivision.
Since then, they've done their training and certifications at MacDill Air Force Base and the sheriff's range in eastern Hillsborough. Police say that makes training inconvenient, takes officers off the street for hours at a time and occasionally causes serious problems. In 2001, when a bank robber killed Master Patrol Officer Lois Marrero and took a hostage, the SWAT team was training in Lithia, an hour away.
Over time, the new range is expected to also save money. The costs of transportation, range fees and officer time for making the drive to and from the Lithia range has been estimated at up to $265,000 a year.
Money for the project will come from Tampa's law enforcement trust fund, which consists of cash seized from drug dealers and other felons.
In an unrelated vote, the council unanimously endorsed the idea of joining St. Petersburg, Orlando, Miami Beach and other cities in litigation that seeks to repeal Florida's ban on gay marriage.
The council's vote effectively presents a unified front on the issue since Mayor Bob Buckhorn already has said Tampa will support the lawsuits.