By Craig Hastings
Have you ever been told something like; “you’ll never know how much you appreciate it until it’s gone?” I have and I didn’t. I don’t know how long ago…maybe twelve years, fifteen years, time flies, anyway, the police department occupied a second warehouse like building along with our main offices these years ago. In this warehouse we accomplished many things we could never do in the office building. It was perfect for impounded cars we were required to care for until their release, do thorough and complete searches of impounded vehicles, store the many tires, wheels, misc. other automotive parts related to our fleet of vehicles, a utility squad car, exercise and workout facility, and most importantly; an indoor pistol firing range. I had also taken on over my career wiring and outfitting our new squad cars and striping out the old ones. This building was perfect for this! I moved many of my tools to this building. Before this building, I timed our car purchases to the summertime so I could do them in my driveway at home! The firing range was set up for just two shooters at a time but it was perfect not only for our required qualifications but the many other firearms training exercises we would do.
Up until the time we were set up with the indoor bullet traps and other related equipment, we would have to try and schedule a range date at some out of town facility. The most difficult part of this was getting everyone at the range at the same time. Of course this required overtime pay for several of the officers for their time spent. Then, as time passed and more training with less than lethal force equipment became the norm and expected tactic for making arrests, we needed the same range space to train and qualify with these newest devices. We acquired Pepperball guns, taser guns, and pepper spray devices over the next few years. All require training and ongoing qualifications. The building we were in was perfect. We came into the building mostly by accident only because it wasn’t being used for anything else at the time and it was in close proximity to the Police Department.
In a few years we were forced out of that building because it sold to an out of town businessman who was interested in making Tuscola one of his newest business locations. I’m not complaining because of course Tuscola encourages businesses to locate here. I was given one option to relocate and this one option was better than no options. Most of you are familiar with the old recycling center that operated out by the dogpound right? When I started here forty years ago this building of sorts was nothing more than an uninsulated, gravel floor, cold storage facility. The Street Department parked some of their larger machines in the building at the time even though this was a less than ideal place to be storing expensive machinery. It was better than nothing and in later years a brand new facility was built and the Street Department only needed a couple of things to be kept in this building. When the building was used for a recycling center was when I believe the concrete floor was poured and the entire interior wall surface was foam insulated. However, still no heat.
Well anyway, the Police Department was offered space in this same building out by the dog pound. I was allowed to have the ceiling furnace moved from the building we were leaving into this building we were relocating too. New overhead doors were installed east and west which helped tremendously with access. It had a sink and toilet in it already from the recycling center days but…wow, that’s all I’ll say about them. We shared our space with many mice, a few toads, twice a couple of squirrels, and more spiders than I care to imagine. Rich and I were working overtime mentally trying to configure the space we would now have compared to what we were leaving behind. Figuring out what and how much of what we would need to use as a backstop to stop stray bullets fired downrange that missed the bullet traps. With the help of Bert Ray and some of the other city street crew members we managed to get this done after some intense test firing into the materials we were using. The firing range was the very most important thing we needed to accomplish. The building is far enough off the grid that loud noise from shooting inside was never an issue.
A brief about what’s required and what police should be doing. The required once a year qualification shoot is a simple, 30 rounds fired, stand still and shoot from 5,7, and 15 yards. Pretty simple and not really something I would consider training. Years earlier Mark Payne and I had come up with several other real training scenarios for our officers to perform. No test, no pass/fail, just simple how it might happen in the field while on duty shoot scenarios. We’ll do them over as many times as the officers feel they need. The officers enjoy them and I think as an administrator all police officers should be provided the opportunity we enjoy.
I would guess less than five percent of police agencies the size of Tuscola are afforded the space and training materials needed to do what we do here. And..I’ve never been challenged by anyone I answer too in upper administration about what it costs to train and how often we do shoot. Where does this happen; or not happen I should say. By having our own space to shoot I never have to either inconvenience the officers by making them shoot on days off nor do I have to pay them overtime. Myself or Mark, now myself or Heath, meet the officers at this facility while they are on duty to conduct training exercises. We share this building with Denny Cruzan and his crew 50/50. We both could use more space but we make it work. The building is packed full all the time. Even more so when the Park Department moves mowers into the building for winter storage. There is another annoying problem. The building sits on low ground so everytime it rains hard, water and mud run in under the south wall and flood the floor with water, mud, and debris. So, after it dries out a few weeks later, we scoop, sweep, and spray the floor to clean it up until the next time. The road, what roadway there is, is also low and long and it floods leaving mud and potholes that are required driving after squad car washings we do in the building making our efforts frivolous sometimes. Your squad is usually splashed up both sides before you reach South Prairie Street. But! When I started here in 1980 the police department had no place inside anywhere to wash police cars! No garage to thaw the snow and ice from the impacted wheel wells causing the tires to rub and wear off on the frozen ice within. So, feel blessed and not punished I think, potholes and mud be damned!
Well, a couple of weeks ago after the big snow storm hit us disaster struck! Apparently there had accumulated enough snow on the roof of the ex recycling center building that the south portion of the roof caved in! Yep, had it not been for the leave vacuum machine and one old road grader from the 60’s era, the whole building probably would have collapsed on everything we had stored and set up! I had to come out and work all night the night before so I was home when I was called and told what happened. Surely I was dreaming. Nope. It was real and I needed to go to the building and grab what was most important. That being two police vehicles still intact, a stolen impounded car, and a bunch of ammunition. The back overhead door was stuck open leaving the building wide open to anyone who wished to enter. Most of the police department’s equipment was unscathed but now exposed to the elements. And thanks Denny for parking your stuff where you do..it saved mine!! LOL!
I spent a lot of time in this building doing a lot of things for the department. Now what? Well I’m doing my best to set up the best I can downtown in the little garage space we share with the Fire Department. We do many emergency tire changes on our squad cars throughout the year ourselves. We keep spare tires mounted and ready to go. We had the proper space to do this in the building that collapsed. Not so much now. Greg Bates was kind enough to allow me to move two police vehicles into storage in his garage that he moved out of next to the Sheriff’s Office before moving to Texas. Most of my firing range equipment is trapped in the collapsed building. I have many things that need to be recovered from the collapsed building. However, even if I could, there isn’t anywhere to put them. So what’s next?
I have no idea. That’s above my pay grade. Denny and I need space..desperately. However, whatever happens next will probably be at a slow crawl especially if what’s next is new construction to replace the old. I have required training due now that I can’t do. Should Greg Bates’ building sell, I’ll have to move two vehicles out. Where will they go? Where do I do the minor maintenance that I have been doing on the cars for thirty-five plus years and where will I wire and upfit the next new car? We have three recovered stolen vehicles we’re responsible for and no where to put them. Here’s my fear. Many years ago the Police Department was given an old building no one really cared about much which allowed Rich and I to kinda do as we pleased with few questions asked. Construction of backstops using building wall support beams as standards, not a big deal. The desk and other storage furniture we used for the firing range; brought from my house. The table we used to clean guns and store goggles and ear protection; Cliff Ponder brought from his house. A dryer we used for wet towels and couch; brought from my house. The exercise and weight training equipment; brought from my house and Heath’s house. The tools we used; mostly mine or tools recovered and unclaimed from inventory searches those being mostly stolen recoveries. We did what we needed to on the cheap and gradual. To redo all of this with what we had and with new; I worry a bit. Pencils will have to go to paper I’m sure.
So, did I not appreciate all of what we had until it was gone? I did! Really I did! I said many times to many people how lucky TPD was to have their own indoor and heated shooting range! Trust me, this is really a big deal for such a small police department. Everything else we enjoyed and made work for us was icing on the cake. We set up what we had gradually and well planned out before we moved anything in. The building had mice, toads, bugs, a squirrel or two, birds, it smelled of mildew, it was poorly lighted, the road leading to it was not so good, the roof leaked, it flooded mud inside when it rained, it was 110 degrees inside during the summer, but, even given all of these pains in my backside..I’d take it all back in a second if I could! We’re thrilled and appreciative that city officials provided and allowed us a building to use as we pleased. I’ll be satisfied if someone finds a way to repair the damage and I’m allowed back in! Please do! We’ve lived with it all these years and long enough none of us notice it’s faults anymore. No other police department our size has anything comparable. Anybody have a 100’x50’ they don’t need anymore?
(The views and opinions expressed in the submitted columns are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Journal.)