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Noise, safety concern at sheriff's shooting range

This isn't a flattened rock. It is made of metal and didn’t come from the area’s natural geology. Instead it is believed that it once was a bullet or part of a bullet that ricocheted off of a target or traveled through a berm at the county-operated shooting range. Pieces like this can be found along Hodges Road and in lawns and driveways.

July 24, 2012 | 02:45 PM
ELKHORN — At first glance, it appears that Dakota Johnson pulled a small rock out of his driveway on Hodges Road.

However, what the senior in high school found is a tire-piercing piece of metal and not part of the area's natural geology.

Johnson said his family's driveway can be covered with flattened- bullet fragments that are coming from the nearby county-operated firing range.

"When they are firing rifles you can here them whistling through the trees," Johnson said.

In rural LaFayette township, neighbors are reportedly finding bullets in their yards and driveways that may be passing through a berm at the range.

The range, located on Hodges Road, is used by several nonprofit organizations and area law enforcement for training.

The County Board Executive Committee on July 16 discussed the safety and noise concerns that were raised by neighbors with Sheriff David Graves and Lt. Jamie Green, who runs the range.

"First, and foremost, safety is our main concern," Green told the committee. "We need to keep the rounds that we own within our facility."

LaFayette Chairman Daniel Cooper and Supervisor Judy O'Donell both wrote letters to the board expressing their concerns. The town of LaFayette board also discussed the issue during its July 13 meeting.

"I myself walk in the mornings and have had several shells go whiz past my head," O'Donell wrote in a letter.

Neighbors have reportedly collected "hundreds of slugs found in their driveways," according to Cooper's letter.

"Our concern is safety, for ourselves and our families. We do not feel safe walking on the road when the range is in use, letting our kids out to ride bikes on the road or even mowing lawn," O'Donell wrote. "The neighbors there could share stories with you that would make you feel very unsafe as well."

Rob Johnson, Dakota's father, said the berm at the range isn't capable of stopping the ammunition. He said he has found metal fragments during the entire seven years that he has lived by the range.

"The issue is automatic weapons and steel targets. The berm, as it is made, it is not able to hold automatic weapons in it," Johnson said. "They are also shooting shotguns off of steel targets and we are getting ricochets off of the steel targets. They go through the trees and land in the driveways."

Green said the sheriff's department doesn't use any automatic weapons. However, other law enforcement groups that use the range do.

"There are other agencies that use our range and some of them do have automatic weapons," Green said. "They are M16s, a form of military (weapons), that have been converted to law enforcement use."

Green said the berms are adequate.

"The NRA minimum is 20 feet and our's definitely exceeds 20 feet," Green said. Graves did say the department can look into the cost of raising the berms.

Green said the targets that are used are more effective for training than paper ones.

"This is very viable in law enforcement training, because it provides instant feedback," Green said. "If you hit it, you get a 'ding,' so you know you hit it."

The county-owned shooting range isn't the only place where shots are being fired in the area. Nearby there is a private shooting range, a public hunting ground and several other people who fire shots in their backyards, Graves said.

"We certainly don't want to have kids riding their bicycles in fear of what is going on down there," Graves said.

Green said since he has received the complaint he has moved the shooting to the far west end of the range, further away from the neighbors. Green said a neighbor gave him a vitamin bottle filled with bullets that he found in his driveway.

"I have no way of knowing if it did come from our range or one of the other users out there," Green said. "There is no label on them."

During the meeting county board supervisors urged the sheriff's department to work with neighbors to find a solution.

"I can empathize with the neighbors, especially if the use of the facility has accelerated over the years," County Board Chairwoman Nancy Russell said. "As far as I'm concerned, one bullet going outside is one too many. I would say we need to do everything possible to make sure nothing is going outside of the facility."

Russell also suggested that there be one day a week, possibly Sundays, when there is no shooting.

"People need to have a day that they can depend on, that they can have a family gathering or don't have to worry about the kids being outside," Russell said. "I would suggest that you don't schedule anything on Sunday, period. I think the neighbors deserve that much."

Graves said he was willing to grant Russell's request.

"We want to get along, and we are not out to stick our chest out and pound our chests," Graves said. "We want to get along with the neighborhood and we also want to accomplish our training."

Johnson said recently a group of police officers used the range all day long, from morning until night.

"It was like combat town over there. It was nonstop shooting," he said.

Supervisors also suggested limiting the hours the ranged is used.

"We will work with the neighborhood, we don't want to be in a fight with the neighbors," Graves said. "We can say we were there first, we have federal statutes to protect us, but we need to get along with the people out there too. While at the same time, we need to practice. We talked about the violence in the community before we have to have verifiable and realistic training and that is what we are conducting out there." Supervisors also suggested using the indoor facility more frequently. The indoor range was built in 1974 with equipment that is now outdated, Green said during the meeting.

"We had a meeting with the DPW committee to look into a range remodel," Green said. "If the range remodel goes through, that indoor range will be more cable of conducting a lot more law enforcement training. In its current state, it's not capable of much other than standing in line and static upright shooting."


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