McDuffie County Sheriff Logan Marshall and Maj. Ronnie Williamson say the department needs a gun range that meets today's training demands. They outlined their case Nov. 15 in presentations to the county commissioners and the board's public safety committee.
The commissioners approved initial talks with the city of Thomson to use about 50 acres of the jointly-held, 297-acre property on Vic Moore Road and Wrightsboro Road. That land was secured for a landfill but has not been developed.
Marshall told the public safety committee that the department now trains on Department of Natural Resources property at the McDuffie Public Fishing Area. He said the DNR no longer uses that site for its own training, and the county cannot be accommodated there indefinitely. He said many departments have to travel to the Georgia Public Safety Training Center. That facility is about two hours west of Thomson, at Forsyth.
Williamson agreed that the DNR still accommodates local police officers at the Dearing area gun range, but conditions and availability do not allow adequate training. He presented a 36-page document in which he spelled out training needs. He also outlined court decisions alleging municipal liability for training for lethal and nonlethal force.
Williamson said the DNR range basically allows for officers to stand still and fire at paper targets. In the report, Marshall and Williamson said courts have held that officers must be trained in shooting under stress, decision-making, attitude, knowledge, skill, shoot-don't shoot scenarios, moving targets, firing while in motion, low-light or adverse light shooting, and firing shotguns. He said officers also need to be training in night shooting, use of tasers and in self-defense.
He called that "the environment in which they work."
"We need to have scenarios in which we not only teach them when to shoot, but when not to shoot," Williamson said.
Commissioner Paul McCorkle agreed that the site would be suitable for night shooting because residential development of the surrounding area seems unlikely.
Marshall said the cost of bullets for training might seem high, but it does not compare to the liability from a shooting lawsuit.
Williamson said the International Association of Chiefs of Police calls for firearms training three times a year. He is a state-certified firearms instructor, and has taught handgun courses to civilians through the Augusta State University Continuing Education Program.
He said developing the range would be at least a two-year project. Roadways, restrooms and a service building would be needed. He said the removal of sand from the site has created a natural barrier around the proposed range. He said the clay bottom would help contain lead from bullets.
Commissioners instructed County Manager Don Norton to work with Thomson City Administrator Don Powers and move forward with the discussion.
"We just can't train them the way we should," Commissioners President Charlie Newton said of the current arrangement.
Commissioners McCorkle and Bill Jopling each mentioned the possibility of sharing the training center with other departments.