Above the objections of Yolie Capin and Mary Mulhern, the rest of the Tampa City Council this morning approved spending nearly $4.8 million in funding for a new police shooting range and firearms training facility. The money is not coming directly from Tampa taxpayers, but from a trust fund earmarked for law enforcement agencies.
Tampa Police Department officials say a shooting range in the city will be beneficial and ultimately pay for itself in saving at least $147,000 in gas and "wear and tear" to have officers drive nearly an hour to the facility that they currently use in Lithia, which is owned and operated by the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office.
"We can train for our job to be better on the streets and to protect our citizens," said Sgt. Jarrett Seal, the TPD official who came before the Council. He said that while the department does a "phenomenal job of training," this facility is crucial for the agency's needs.
But Capin wondered if the money couldn't be used for better purposes for the police, such as purchasing new vehicles. And she asked if anybody had ever tallied how much gas is used for officers who take their cars home. For years, the majority of TPD officers have not lived within Tampa city limits.
The Councilwoman wasn't buying the fact that it was such an imposition for TPD officers to use a "perfect gun range" in South County, and also questioned creating a structure in the city that would have to contend with the toxicity of lead bullets. That set up Seal perfectly to explain that the designs for the new facility will allow for spent bullets to be trapped and ultimately recycled. "It's a green system," he said. "Environmentally safe."
Councilwoman Mary Mulhern also shared some of Capin's concerns, particularly the fuel costs that accumulate for officers who commute to and from areas far from their police headquarters. She also asked contract administration director David Vaughn how many construction companies bid on the project. He said he didn't have that information, but assured her that the process was competitive.
The $5 million is not being taken out of city coffers, but from Law Enforcement Trust Funds (LETF), which allow law enforcement agencies to seize and forfeit any contraband that have been used in the commissions of felonies.
Budget Director Sonya Little told Capin that an inquiry had been made to determine if LETF could be used for the purchase of new vehicles, and was informed that it could not be.
Capin still wasn't satisfied at the end of the discussion and asked for the proposal to be brought back in a month, but that motion went nowhere. Ultimately the board voted 5-2, with Capin and Mulhern dissenting.