Grand Jury report targets closed firing range, compliments training

June 22, 2011
Santa Paula News

When the Ventura Police Firing Range closed in 2006 Santa Paula law enforcement used private property for training, and last week the Ventura County Grand Jury issued a report noting the property ultimately used by the SPPD should not have garnered City Council approval.

Although the report lauded SPPD weapons training overall, the jury recommended the city stop using the range and urged that, in the future, issues that could create “significant liability” be closer examined by the council and staff.

In fact, according to SPPD Chief Steve MacKinnon, the range in question is no longer being used. And if the grand jury had told the city they were investigating the matter, MacKinnon said, it could have been cleared up then.

The grand jury interacts with each law enforcement agency in Ventura County annually for updates and jail inspections, among other issues. So when the grand jury contacted the SPPD to ask about the firing range, which has been a matter of staff reporting and council discussion, MacKinnon said, “I was a bit bothered by the grand jury not telling us the reason of their inquiry... if they had posed the initial questions” while informing the SPPD they were investigating the issue, “told us the concerns of the range, they would have been informed we closed down that firing range.”

Subsequently, he added, the “bulk” of recommendations offered by the jury have already been solved. “Right now we have a memorandum of understanding” with the Navy Seabees to use their existing range out of Pt. Mugu, and “We’ve been using that for a couple of months now.”

The report “Santa Paula Police Firing Range” released Thursday noted grand jury received a complaint regarding the use of a property in the unincorporated area across the Santa Clara River in the South Mountain vicinity as a firing range. Noted the report: “Citizen concerns were raised about whether or not this was a permitted land use, and whether or not concerns regarding safety of the site for live firing, noise pollution, grading activities, business licensing, and lead contamination were properly addressed.”

The jury found the Council had approved a city staff recommendation to enter into an agreement for the use of a temporary firing range facility in September 2010. But the report states, “There was nothing in the public record to demonstrate that the City had adequately considered the appropriateness of the site as a firing range, had considered the legal liabilities of such an arrangement, or had considered what the specific arrangements would be for using the site.”

Subsequent to council approval, Ventura County issued building code and/or non-costal zoning ordinance violation notices to the unnamed property owner. “As of the end of April 2011, there was no signed Agreement or any other document, such as a Hold Harmless Agreement, that had been executed by the City regarding this temporary range,” reported the jury.

Although the jury recommended that the city suspend using the current temporary firing range until it is properly permitted and a formal agreement entered into, the jury did compliment the SPPD for its attention to training.

According to the report, the SPPD firearms training program “goes well beyond the eight-hour per year requirement of the California Police Officers Standards and Training (POST) to maintain service weapon qualifications. It provides extensive training in the use of less- than-lethal weapons as well as the latest tactics.”

The SPPD had been using a location near Willard Road until 2010, when the owner was notified he needed a CUP to continue such land use. The SPPD, which trains monthly, then started utilizing the other property on a stated free and temporary basis in the South Mountain area.

The city also received a complaint in February 2011, and has indicated to the jury that it is entering in a more formal agreement with the property owner. In their report the grand jury also recommended that city staff and council “give due attention to future agenda items with significant risks for liability.”

When it comes to the firing range, MacKinnon said, “We are working diligently to come up with an alternative for a long-range plan to create a training facility.” In September MacKinnon presented the council with a proposed firing range plan that would not only fulfill the SPPD’s training needs - including close proximity to the city - but would also be a potential revenue creator. Such a plan, said MacKinnon, will be presented to the city’s Economic Development Advisory Committee, “followed by a similar proposal to the council at a future meeting.”

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