After having been closed for more than a year, the range on which Toms River police officers qualify to use their weapons will receive a number of improvements and eventually reopen.
The range had long been in a state of relative disrepair, Chief Mitch Little said, but officers did their best to keep it running. The improvements, which will cost $190,200, was approved 6-1 by the township council this week.
“We’ve had it for 40 years and have never spent any money on it,” said Little. “It’s always been us volunteering and bringing equipment out there.”
The range, located at the township’s public works facility, was ultimately shut down after two mishaps involving bullets that were not captured before they left the range area. While no one was hurt, and the range technically still could be legally operated under federal guidelines, the department shut it down as a safety precaution due to the proximity of the Greenbriar Woodlands community nearby.
“It was legal, but it wasn’t built the way it should be,” Little explained.
The improvements will include the installation of a safety baffle, a collection and barrier system usually made of a combination of wood, steel and alloys that ensures bullets cannot leave the range area. The baffles normally include devices which contain the splatter and ricoochet of a bullet.
The cost of the improvements led Councilman Dan Rodrick to urge putting off the project during a time of economic hardship and furloughs at town hall.
“At a time like this, when so many folks were furloughed – we furloughed a bunch of folks to save $500,000 – this is not a time to spend $200,000 on a shooting range or do a $156,000 construction project at the park,” Rodrock said, referring also to a separate item that included outdoor exercise equipment at Veterans Park. “They are noble projects and worthy of the taxpayer, but you don’t go out to dinner or on vacation when you can’t pay your mortgage.”
Little explained, however, that the lack of a range for a police department as large as Toms River’s ends up costing taxpayers each year. In order to retain certification to carry a weapon, officers must qualify twice a year with handguns and four times a year with rifles – at a minimum. Members of the SWAT team, which includes 25 officers, must train 16 hours each month. The cost of all that training – which had to be provided at ranges in other towns – was beginning to pile up, the chief said.
“It costs us money to travel to other PDs – they charge about $100 a day – not to mention 163 officers who we displace,” Little said. “We’d have to send them out of town with an hour turnaround time which is gas and time, which obviously equates to money.”
Additionally, Little said, ranges in neighboring towns were designed to support those departments, which are normally smaller than Toms River. It has been tough to find range time.
“We have 163 people we’re trying to fit in on their ranges with their schedules, and you get overrun,” Little said.
Toms River’s range will be designed to have 12 lanes. Little also said the range could end up generating revenue if it is leased to other towns in the same Toms River previously leased time elsewhere.
“Now is the time to do it the right way and not have any mishaps,” he said.
The council approved the range project 6-1, with Rodrick dissenting.