Partners in arms: City, county and UVA cut ribbon on indoor firing range

Ribbon-cutting attendees toured the eight-lane firing ranges, at which law enforcement can practice accuracy at 150 feet. Photo by Ryan Jones Ribbon-cutting attendees toured the eight-lane firing ranges, at which law enforcement can practice accuracy at 150 feet. Photo by Ryan Jones

While it’s not always smooth sailing between the city and county, collaboration was the word of the day as officers and officials from Albemarle, Charlottesville and the University of Virginia gathered May 12 to dedicate a long-in-the-works, state-of-the-art Regional Firearms Training Center.

Albemarle County Police had been looking for a shooting range since the 1980s, and soon-to-be-former Chief Steve Sellers said getting one built was “probably one of the most difficult” parts of his tenure here, especially when residents opposed putting one at the old Keene landfill in 2012.

“Because of that resistance, we have a much better facility,” said Sellers.

Former attorney general Ken Cuccinelli deserves much of the credit. Cuccinelli suggested that Albemarle, Charlottesville and UVA police apply for grants individually “so we wouldn’t get so much attention,” said Sellers, and that’s how local law enforcement ended up with a $2.9 million grant from the AG to build the $6 million facility.

UVA provided the 172-acre Milton site, which originally was dedicated as an airfield in 1940 to train civilian pilots on the eve of U.S. involvement in World War II and more recently used as a firing range for University Police. “Milton airfield was not supported by local property owners,” said Don Sundgren, UVA facilities chief, who didn’t mention that neighboring Glenmore was not too fond of the outdoor shooting, either. “Now what we’ve got is a facility to train local law enforcement officers,” he said.

The 19,054-square-foot center has two 50-yard, eight-lane firing ranges, and the right range has armored walls to allow a “220-degree training atmosphere” that’s realistic to what officers encounter in the street, said Charlottesville’s Sergeant Shawn Bayles.

That includes strobe lights similar to the blue-and-white emergency lights on patrol cars, and Wi-Fi controlled targets that move at walk, jog or run speeds—or that hide behind a victim. Officers must react to a shoot or no-shoot situation, said Bayles.

The facility has cleaning spaces so lead isn’t tracked all over the place. Two ventilation systems alone cost $1 million. “The air quality is better than outside,” said Rob Heide, who recently retired from Albemarle police and is a consultant on the project. “Out in the parking lot, you’ll be surprised at what you don’t hear.”

There’s a computer simulation room, and Heide called a scenario and role-playing training room “the single most important part of this building.” There, officers can face eight scenarios within four minutes, such as force on force, escalation, de-escalation or someone asking for directions. The idea, he said, is for officers to better learn to use their mouths rather than force in handling situations. Add in noise—crowds, protests or other sounds of chaos—and the officers train to make the split-second decisions they face in real life.

The building, says Heide, is “locking down the lead and amping up the training.”