CLEARWATER — There are no plans to move the Clearwater Police Department’s Safety Harbor gun range indoors.
Police Chief Daniel Slaughter told the Beacon last week that plans for a future District 3 Operations and Training Center does not include an inside, live-fire range. Slaughter — who has fielded noise complaints from residents near the range at 2851 McMullen Booth Road — worries that residents got the wrong message when he described the proposed, Category 5-strength building, for District 3 during a budget hearing in August.
Slaughter told councilmembers Aug. 22 the new facility would include a SWAT training facility, and fire range training, but the department still relies on portable classrooms for other law enforcement training.
When Slaughter told the council, “We’d like to get rid of those trailers and get everything under one roof,” that did not include moving the present outdoor firing range — which had just been overhauled to the tune of $2 million — indoors, Slaughter said.
“I don’t want local residents to get the wrong impression,” he told the Beacon.
The firing range reopened after the renovation in 2017, and since then the range has added floor-to-ceiling sound barriers on posts, above the targets, and exposed concrete above existing foam.
“They built a whole new range out there,” said Clearwater Police Lt. Michael Walek. “It has a staggered roof that baffles sound while keeping rain off officers and it’s got a good amount of absorbent foam for sound baffling. It’s a state-of-the-art range.”
Police spokesman Rob Shaw said resident complaints have subsided since the gun range underwent improvements.
“The current outdoor shooting range at that site is partially covered and has multiple sound-limiting devices in place to minimize noise issues to nearby residents,” he said.
However, the police department does want to introduce a new, indoor, virtual training system that uses digital targeting software and other high-tech tools, Shaw said.
“The department currently uses a version of Fire Arms Training Simulato, which is now is at the end of its useful life,” Shaw said. “There are several manufacturers of these products, and no particular product has been selected.”
FATS, which is produced by Meggitt Training Systems, uses video screens to put officers in the middle of various scenarios — felony traffic stops, hostage situations, home invasion, as well as advancing on suspects in a store, a bank, in a parking lot, or an active shooter inside a school, for instance. The programs can be manipulated to train officers in low-light and other challenging environments.
Other technologies, such as Multiple Interactive Learning Objectives (MILO), use a room-length screen along multiple walls to immerse trainees into a 300-degree view of an event. The training officer, for instance, can walk into a “park” with children playing on equipment to his left, with a suspect walking on a path to his right, and people playing soccer in the grass ahead of the officer. Each of the people in the scene acts independently, teaching officers in pursuit how to evaluate fluid situations.
The “firearms” are linked to the system and shoot beams of light instead of real bullets, though MILO training can be used with live firing pistols, too.
Up to four weapons can be assigned to each student and in marksmanship situations, up to three systems can be connected, supporting up to 48 weapons and 15 students, the company website states.
The police department can choose from many vendors, including MILO, VirTra Training Simulators, Street Smarts Virtual Reality Training, Apex Officer, and many others.
“There are too many brands to list and we have not selected one,” Shaw said.