Driving by the Columbia Police Department’s headquarters downtown, it’s hard not to notice the police cars spilling out of the garage, parked not only along Sixth and Walnut streets but also in the city-owned lot across from the post office.
“You can see outside there are cars parked all over the place,” Columbia Police Capt. Mike Martin said. “We rent spaces in public lots for their cars, not to mention what we take up on the streets.”
Police parking could improve, however, if voters approve Proposition 3, an extension of a quarter-cent sales tax that would provide $1.2 million to build a police training facility and firing range that would also include space for vehicles.
“This is a now need,” Martin said.
The Police Department until 1999 had its own firing range on land near the Bolstad electric station, off Peabody Road, but an expansion of the station made it unsafe to continue firearms training there. Police have since practiced shooting at the Green Valley Chapman Range, a private gun club south of Hallsville. Officers are required to practice at least three times a year, Martin said, and arranging training around Green Valley’s schedule is a challenge.
The training facility would be new to the department. Sgt. Ken Gregory, who is in charge of training, now has to arrange to use and sometimes rent conference rooms around town for the four departmentwide training sessions held each year.
Officers are required to undergo 48 hours of training per year, which includes four required hours each in legal studies, interpersonal skills, technical studies and skill development, Gregory said. He added that the department is a “full-service” agency because all its officers are required to know how to perform specialty tasks such as evidence collection and fingerprinting.
“It’s funny because we’ll hire people from larger departments, and they may not know how to do fingerprints,” Gregory said. “Everything is so specialized.”
Martin said the department would like to find a 20-acre tract in rural Boone County on which to develop the training building, firing range, garage and parking lot. The 2,000-square-foot building would include a 75-seat classroom, a weight room, locker rooms, an armory and office space.
“Currently, our armory is an oversized closet downstairs,” Martin said.
The facility would also include a drivers’ training area where officers could practice what Martin called “expedited turns” and other maneuvers.
City Manager Ray Beck said the Police Department historically has received little revenue from capital improvements sales tax. The Fire Department uses the revenue to pay for fire trucks and new stations, but the Police Department buys cars and other equipment from its annual budget.