The Loudoun County sheriff's department has begun a search for a rifle firing range site for a newly formed emergency response team that will be called out in hostage or other crisis situations.
The Sheriff's Emergency Response Team will be "mobilized in response to emergencies, particularly when you have a barricaded person," and particularly when that person has taken one or more hostages, said Maj. Charles A. Cooper of the sheriff's department.
"We'll be doing some training with rifles or what have you, and obviously we'll need to fire at 100 to 200 yards," Cooper said. Although there have been few cases in Loudoun County requiring the services of such a team, the sentiment at the sheriff's department, he said, is that "you've got to be prepared for it in the event it happens."
Sheriff's deputies train in the use of service revolvers and shotguns at the Leesburg Police Department's firing range near Leesburg. This training, mandated by the state for once every 12 months, is taken by the deputies at least twice a year, Cooper said.
He said the range is not suitable for rifle practice because the maximum distance for shooting is 25 yards.
Loudoun County Sheriff John Isom said recently that a site near the Chantilly Crushed Stone quarry is "definitely being considered" for the long-distance range, but no decision has been made.
In a letter to county administrator Philip A. Bolen, Isom said that the owner of the quarry had offered the free use of a tract of land near the quarry for a minimum of 10 years, and that the owner, John Gudelsky, has "also agreed to assist in the earthwork for a range. I know of no other reason Mr. Gudelsky has made this offer other than he is a public service-oriented citizen . . . without any zoning battles, etc. occurring around his quarry," Isom said in the letter.
Isom's letter was presented to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors last month during discussions of a proposed change in the county's zoning law that would allow public governmental uses, such as firing range practice by the sheriff's department, in areas zoned for industrial use. The quarry and nearby tract lie in an industrial zone. The board referred the matter to the planning commission for discussion and a public hearing.
Regardless of the site chosen, practicing on high-powered rifles with telescopic sights will be necessary for the emergency response team's training, Cooper said. He speculated that if a person was holding hostages in a farmhouse in rural Loudoun, "The chances are you couldn't get within 25 yards" of the house.
Six deputies have undergone training in the use of high-powered rifles and in locating people barricaded in buildings. At least 10 deputies will be trained for the response team, and at least five deputies will be required for any crisis situation, Cooper said.
Cooper said that there have been "a few instances when we could have used a team, but not because of barricaded persons." Several months ago, he said, deputies were to serve a search warrant on a house in which the occupants were believed to be involved in drugs. On learning that the occupants had machine guns, the sheriff's department called the Virginia State Police, who sent their emergency response team. The house was found to be empty, Cooper said.