Officers awed by modern shooting range Arundel neighbors are also pleased with facility

March 05, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Clyde Shover pounded the dirt down around a sprig of newly planted ornamental grass yesterday to the beat of 20 people in the distance shooting guns, five rounds every four seconds.

The Anne Arundel County Police Academy shooting range is 800 yards down the slope of his back yard, but he's not complaining about the noise, not anymore.

Leaning on his shovel, he listened hard and evaluated: It sounds less what's the word?

Loud?

No, dangerous. It sounds less dangerous, he said.

Flying bullets

Stover, like many of his neighbors who have complained for years about noise levels and stray bullets flying into their yards, was excited yesterday at the opening of the Anne Arundel Academy police firing range in Davidsonville.

"It became a joke during the summertime when we'd sit by the pool," Shover said. "Every time something would fly overhead or we'd hear a noise in the bushes, someone would ask, 'Is it a bird?' We'd say, 'No, it's a police bullet.' "

The high-tech facility has caught the eye of police officers xTC statewide, who have been stopping by to look at the building and take home blueprints.

The neighborhood and collegial enthusiasm was nothing compared with that felt by the Arundel police officers and sheriff's deputies who showed up yesterday for their first day of practice at the range.

In almost reverential tones, they talked to each other about how their range is second only to the one in Beltsville used by the best gunfighters in the land -- the Secret Service.

Special effects

But theirs does have a cool setup, they agreed, with moving targets and stage props. The idea is to practice hunting criminals while avoiding shooting innocent bystanders. A woman carrying a bag of groceries, for example, flying across the backdrop at Olympic speed is there "to simulate real life."

The range also boasts an overhead stereo system that blasts sirens, traffic and yelling -- more real-life touches -- and lighting that can turn noon into a midnight shift.

"Try on these new headphones," firing instructor Sgt. Dennis O'Toole urged a visitor. "Oh, yeah. Stereophonic.

"And look at the radios we have now," he continued, pointing to the hand-held communicator hanging from his jacket. "We're on a special channel."

With contraptions like "Action Target Total Containment," the place feels professional, said Officer Craig Lazzaro of the department's Special Operations Unit. He shot a perfect score on the heart of his swiveling "man" -- almost 50 bullets within a few inches of one another.

"This place is fantastic," he said. "I knew we'd get it sooner or later."

It took almost $1.1 million and five years for the department to get the range.

"Well, this place certainly doesn't look anything like what we had," said Capt. David Shipley, a veteran with the department, to Lt. Jeff Kelly, as the two of them watched the officers begin firing.

"No, sir," Kelly said. "What we had was a hole in the ground."

'Real-life situations'

The department built the cement structure over that old hole in the ground. In the past, officers stood in mud, snow and rain puddles to fire at stationary targets stacked up against a mound of dirt.

To practice for "real-life situations," two officers would pull a cardboard figure across the target area on a pulley.

Local residents are also pleased by the changes. Some of them have complained about finding bullet casings in their yards. In 1992, a stray bullet from the range flew 800 yards through a patch of trees before dinging the ladder of a neighbor's pool and skimming over the water.

The department shut the facility down for three months until officers could build a bigger mound of dirt.

"This is ten times better," said neighbor Giorgio Zaffaroni. "It was so loud before."

Pub Date: 3/05/98

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