AMSTERDAM The shooting range in the basement of the Amsterdam police headquarters is full of lead, and not just from all the spent rounds fired into paper targets over the years.
Amsterdam Police Department Chief Greg Culick said the range was built in 1972 but shut down in 1996 after the state health department found officers were being exposed to unacceptable levels of lead during a standard round of training.
“When this was built in 1972 it was state of the art,” said Culick of the range. “And when the building opened in 1973 there really wasn’t a whole lot of concern about lead contamination.”
Since 1996, Culick said, the space has been used for storage by both the police and fire departments. But on Wednesday, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, flanked by Culick and Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa, announced $285,000 in state funding that will be used to renovate the range, install a new ventilation system and add a new state-of-the-art range system that will allow the space to meet modern requirements and function as it was originally intended.
Santabarbara said that the investment, “breathes new life into a once-operational training facility, helps ensure the best training for our city's officers and local law enforcement year-round, and saves time and significant costs that come with limited alternative training options now available.”
The Amsterdam police department and other law enforcement agencies in Montgomery County currently travel to outdoor ranges in Fulton County for firearm training and qualification, said Santabarbara. Once the Amsterdam range reopens, other law enforcement agencies in the area will be able to use it in addition to the police department.
“With these funds the range will finally reopen and become a training asset, not only for Amsterdam but also regional law enforcement agencies throughout the entire region,” said Santabarbara. “Amsterdam is one of the only departments in the area to offer an on-location venue that can conduct regular training of this type 24 hours a day all year long.”
The renovation of the range will also save the city money. Culick said since 1996 training and qualification has taken place outdoors and off-site and “overtime has been going through the roof because you have to take everybody out to a public range and you’re trying to do it all in one day. Everyone has got to be compensated because we’re all union employees, so having this on-site now is going to be a vast improvement for us and it’s definitely going to help the city budget-wise.”
Culick estimated the department spends around $30,000 in overtime each year for firearms training and qualification. “It’s a hefty portion of the budget,” said Culick. He said his hope is that the range will be operational by March of next year.
When it does reopen, the range will be available for use 24 hours a day. It will also be open for training to Amsterdam city court officers and, Culick said, the department will eventually explore opening the range up for public use once a month.
The range currently has three shooting lanes and targets are placed on three different tracks that extend to the back of the range - which is soundproofed - about 120 feet. Culick said the new range system will be equipped to provide real-life training scenarios to officers who find themselves confronting one or more armed suspects.
“We’ve been blessed in this community not to have been dealt that card yet but it can happen tomorrow, or tonight or today, so we’re incredibly thankful to Assemblyman Santabarbara because we’ve been trying to get this funding for years,” said Culick.
Villa, a former Amsterdam police officer, said he qualified on the range during his time with the department and knows how beneficial it is to be able to train on-site.
“It’s a valuable tool to be able to conduct firearms training in house,” said Villa. “It not only eliminates a huge cost to overtime, but this modern version of what I trained on will provide different scenarios which are critical in training officers, different lighting scenarios and re-creating a more realistic scene that officers may be faced with when out on patrol.”
Santabarbara said he toured the facility when he came into office three years ago, and has requested funding to renovate the range since then. He added that Amsterdam’s indoor range has several advantages over a typical outdoor range, such as the ability to provide different lighting scenarios and targets at different distances, as well the ability to train year-round.
“It’s a win-win for the city, but it’s also a win-win for the region because I think you will see other police departments who are going to want to train their officers on this range versus the outdoor ranges, even when it’s not during the winter months,” said Santabarbara.