Rebuilt firearms facility will serve both departments’ needs
Plymouth and Maple Grove police departments have forged a new avenue of collaboration in signing a joint powers agreement for the renovated firearms facility at 11370 89th Avenue in Maple Grove.
Following a December 2011 fire at the shooting range, Maple Grove PD lost a longstanding partnership with Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office for the training facility.
The fire destroyed nearly half of the building, and the Sheriff’s Office opted to relocate training operations to Hennepin County Technical College in Eden Prairie, leaving Maple Grove without a partner.
Meanwhile, the Plymouth department was experiencing frustration with its own outdated and decaying shooting range.
“Our system was 20-25 years old and was having some serious troubles,” said Sgt. Kevin Wilson, range instructor with Plymouth PD.
As both departments found themselves in need of an upgrade, the collaboration began to form.
“It left us with a decision on how we should proceed,” said Maple Grove Chief of Police David Jess. “That resulted in discussions with Plymouth. We have other joint ventures with Plymouth and this is kind of a shared resource. It has worked very well.”
Maple Grove completed rebuilding the new facility with major high-tech improvements and began police department operations at the range Jan. 8.
Jess said the renovation cost roughly $2.2 million, paid for with insurance money and some city contribution. Plymouth will pay approximately $50,000 in 2013 as an initial contribution, and the departments will split operation costs 50-50 through subsequent years.
“I think the biggest benefit is having a facility where we have the opportunity to share costs and provide a state of the art building to train our officers in,” said Jess.
Wilson noted that he was happy to continue building a bond between the neighboring departments.
“We’ve worked closely with Maple Grove for years, both on the road and with our SWAT,” he said. “We saw this as a great opportunity to further extend our collaboration with them.”
Maple Grove officer John Peterson, range coordinator, shared the same sentiment.
“We’ve worked with Plymouth for many years and once they found out we were building the range, it was just kind of a natural fit,” Peterson said. “Both agencies are roughly the same size, have the same job, the same mission and everything else. Really, the patches may say a different city on them, but we’re the same thing.”
Plymouth and Maple Grove have begun sharing the modern amenities of the facility including a 40-person training classroom, 12-stall range and a scenario simulator.
The old building in Plymouth featured a five-stall, 45-foot range while the new facility features 12 stalls and a length of 45 yards; meaning officers can train to shoot at much longer distances.
The new scenario simulator includes a large projector screen that can play recorded situations that train officers in decision shoots; when and whether or not to use force in a particular situation.
While an officer participates in a scenario, a small cannon at the top of the screen can shoot plastic balls at a trainee who fails to take appropriate cover. The training is then recorded for the officer and trainer to review.
Jess said the simulator is unique and that a number of area police departments are looking at renting the space as well.
“That’s a really good training tool,” Jess said “And, generally speaking, when I’m training there I actually, often times, am sweating by the time I’m done. It really feels like a real scenario.”
The shooting range itself has an upgraded steel trap that collects rounds into a large drum as they are shot.
It is speculated that a hot round in the previous trap may have caused the fire in 2011, although that has never been confirmed. The new trap greatly reduces the possibility of a fire with thick armor plating.
Previously, Maple Grove had to hire a specialist to visit the range annually and clean the lead from the old trap. This process cost the city an estimated $10,000 per year, and resulted in a weeklong range closure.
The new trap automatically harvests the lead from ammunition and, once collected, Maple Grove can sell the roughly 6,000 pounds of lead produced annually to a recycling center and further offset the cost of operations.
The facility is scheduled to open for public use sometime in April. Originally, Maple Grove had anticipated opening the range March 1, but there remains some legal work and additional staff hiring to be completed to accommodate public use.
When opened, residents will be able to utilize the range 6-9 p.m. Wednesdays and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays for a fee. Any caliber handguns and .22-caliber rifles will be permitted for use.
In the meantime, both range instructors said they look forward to learning new training techniques from the new partnership.
“One nice thing for me, as a range instructor, is that I get to go there and see what [Maple Grove] is doing as a department,” Wilson said. “We have our way of doing things and now we have the opportunity to see what kinds of training they’re doing.”
“We all work together now more than we ever have before,” Peterson added. “We can really share a lot of ideas.”
As it stands, Plymouth has a 25-year agreement with Maple Grove to continue the partnership at the firearms facility.
Wilson said he sees the relationship continuing and growing in new ways for the years to come.
“I see this lasting as long as we can make it last,” he said. “It’s in its infancy, but these guys are very easy to work with and we’re very excited about it. I see this being a long term venture for us.”