New gun range will help sharpen Spokane police officers' skills

SPOKANE, Wash. - The North Hollywood Shootout, a violent bank robbery in California 15 years ago, is still changing the way police officers are trained and equipped here in Spokane.

Two men, Larry Phillips, Jr. and Emil M?t?s?reanu, packing fully automatic weapons and wearing body armor, were able to shoot and wound 18 people -- including nine police officers -- at a North Hollywood Bank of America branch before police were able stop them. The 1997 incident showed that police armed with just handguns were no match for modern criminals.

The North Hollywood Shootout sent shock waves throughout the law enforcement community. Officers were stunned when they saw their handgun rounds bouncing off the suspects' ballistic vests.

Spokane gun range expansion

"They were outgunned and out equipped compared to the bad guys on scene," Spokane Police range master Sergeant Matt Cowles said.

Since the 1997 shootout, a number of law enforcement agencies nationwide have gone to a program where patrol officers have rifles available to them.

The Spokane Police Department's gun range has been in use since at least the 1950s, back when six-shot revolvers were an officer's primary duty weapon. Today officers carry AR-15 rifles in their patrol cars. That way, if necessary, they don't have to wait for the SWAT team to have extra firepower,

"If the situation calls for it, the long rifle is an excellent tool for us because it is so accurate, because you don't need as many rounds, and ultimately it's going to keep the scene much safer," Spokane Police Officer Jennifer DeRuwe said.

However the police department has found itself coming up short when it comes to its patrol rifle training. With that in mind the department is now building a hundred yard range so if there ever is a shooting situation the first officers responding to the scene will have both the right skills and equipment.

"So that when you have individuals out there with very dangerous weapons, able to inflict a lot of harm on people we're able to come in, arrive on scene and take care of business," Sgt. Cowles said.

Currently, the department has a 50-yard gun range, but thanks to a $300,000 in federal grants, the department will be extending the range out to the hundred yard line so that patrol officers will not only be better armed but also be better trained and prepared for an active shooter scenario.