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    Orange County sheriff’s shooting ranges get $10 million upgrade to save lives
    • February 23, 2024

    Deputy Tim Ott was given this scenario on Thursday, Feb. 22, inside the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s revamped firearms training center:

    A woman called dispatch and said she saw an unknown man rummaging through her trash cans and she believed he had a handgun.

    Ott stood 10 yards away from a black partition with a photo of a man’s head peeking above it. Ott identified himself. Seconds later, the target moved to the left side of the barrier, revealing an object in the man’s hand.

    Ott, with his service weapon pointed at the man, flinched but did not fire.

    The object was a cellphone.

    Deputies and other Orange County police officers can practice here when not to shoot and how to de-escalate tense situations with suspects who might be armed.

    “My deputies know me, I have one rule: Number one, everyone goes home,” Sheriff Don Barnes said. “That’s not just everyone wearing a uniform, that’s everyone we deal with in the public as well.

    “If we all go home, that’s a good day for us.”

    Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes demonstrates an AR-15. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A bust of the late Sheriff Sandra Hutchens is displayed in the revamped center. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Darwin Nip demonstrates training. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A portrait of the late Sheriff Sandra Hutchens hangs in the lobby. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes speaks during a grand re-opening of the firearms training center.
    The facility was renamed in honor of the late Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Tim Ott demonstrates training. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)



    The center, which sits along Katella Avenue in Orange across from the Honda Center, has been around since the early 1960s. Over the last three years, it was renovated with $10 million to, among other things, take out individual lanes and booths and create an open space for law enforcement officers to not only practice their aim, but to test in dynamic situations and to train their eyes to watch multiple spots.

    “Our deputies face … dynamic and real-world circumstances that we want to train for,” Barnes said.

    The facility offers two indoor ranges, one 50 feet in length and a second at 25 feet.

    The larger range allows for multiple squad SUVs so deputies can re-enact calls from the moment they get out of their vehicles. Lights can be adjusted to simulate calls to poorly lit areas, and flashing red and blue lights can be brought in overhead to simulate a squad car’s lights. Deputies and officers can now fire in the direction of one wall and part of another — instead of just one like before.

    “We’re teaching them to move,” Barnes explained. “Fire and move. Get cover, don’t stand in a door frame, which we taught for many years. We’ve undone all the bad tactics.”

    Deputy Darwin Nip demonstrated an ambush call.

    He stepped out of a SUV, used it for cover and deployed a flashlight on his service weapon to more clearly see targets in the dim lighting, some of which portrayed suspects with firearms.

    Nip maneuvered around the car to get the flashlight on six different targets, firing only at those with firearms, while giving verbal commands to pretend suspects.

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    Barnes said the types of training used at the facility paid off when an armed retired Ventura police sergeant showed up on Aug. 23 at Cook’s Corner, a rustic bar and restaurant in south Orange County. The ex-sergeant killed three and injured six. Deputies hustled to the scene and immediately were in a battle with the 59-year-old gunman as he tried to get more weapons from his truck; he was killed.

    Barnes said those involved in that call have since thanked the training staff at the training center for preparing them for that call.

    In addition to reopening the center, Barnes also dedicated the facility to a late sheriff: Now, it is called the Sandra Hutchens Regional Law Enforcement Training Center.

    A painting of Hutchens hangs just inside the front door, and there’s a bust of her, several photos and a video display of rotating photos of the former sheriff, who died in January 2021 from cancer. Hutchens served as sheriff from 2008 to 2019.

    “What she focused on, first and foremost, and why I think it’s so apt this facility is named after her, is training,” Barnes said. “Preparing our personnel and preparing our teams for the inevitable. Giving them the tools, the training and trusting them to do their jobs.”

    The department plans more construction on the grounds.

    The sheriff said the Sheriff’s Advisory Council was attempting to fundraise $15 million for an addition that would help create “the most dynamic training environment west of the Mississippi, if not the United States.”

    To date, Barnes said, $6.3 million had been raised and he hoped the rest would be collected by the end of summer for a 7,400-square-foot, two-story building with an interior that could be reconstructed in a matter of minutes to create six different settings, including a school, a church, a motel, and a business park.

    “It’ll be the most instrumental and valuable tool to make sure our people train the right way and to bring them home safely at the end of their shift,” Barnes said.

    ​ Orange County Register