A small group of Cranston residents continue to raise concerns over noise levels produced by the nearby police gun range off Phenix Avenue across from the Cranston West football field, used for …
A small group of Cranston residents continue to raise concerns over noise levels produced by the nearby police gun range off Phenix Avenue across from the Cranston West football field, used for training and qualification purposes, despite multiple attempts by the city to mitigate the problem.
The Safety, Services and Licenses Committee held a docketed discussion on the matter last September in which public comments on the issue were heard and responded to by Cranston officials. At this meeting about a dozen local residents, all of whom live less than a mile from the range, spoke about the hassle the sounds cause as well as beliefs that the gun range constitutes a healthy and safety hazard.
Locals stated that they have had to end zoom meetings while working at home, have had the peace and quiet of walks around the neighborhood disturbed and have concerns about what may happen if they try to sell their houses only to have potential buyers disinterested because of the noise.
City ordinances require ambient sound levels to remain below a 55 decibel (dB) average between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. when measured from the property line of a residential property. Sounds that exceed that average when measured are considered to be in violation of local ordinances. Despite claims by Martha Dimeo, of 69 Laconia Road, that the sounds are causing physical, emotional and mental damage, Dimeo said that she hasn’t measured the sound levels according to city standards throughout the day to verify they break city ordinances.
“A whisper is about 30 dB, normal conversation is about 60 dB, and a motorcycle engine running is about 95 dB,” according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. “Noise above 70 dB over a prolonged period of time may start to damage your hearing. Loud noise above 120 dB can cause immediate harm to your ears.”
Major Todd Patalano of the Cranston Police said that when concerns about the sound levels were brought to them, the police hired a private company to check the decibel levels in the neighborhood nearest the range.
Patalano produced several videos showing the levels of sound present at the intersection of Midland Drive and Scotland Road, less than half a mile away from the range, being tested by a decibel meter. The highest reading recorded was during the shooting of a rifle, which produced a sound level of 53.8 decibels which, even when not averaged with lesser sound levels between shots, is still under the legal noise limit permitted by city ordinance.
“A lot of people’s lives are on the line, and that’s not hyperbole,” Dimeo said in an hour-long interview at Beacon Communications offices on Friday. She was accompanied by Pat and Alfred Schoeninger who live in the neighborhood.
“There are automatic weapons being fired in a civilian neighborhood across from a school. A board certified neuropsychologist, and a psychiatrist who’s board certified in neurology and psychology laid out to the mayor and the city council what this is doing to us physically and mentally,” Dimeo said.
Dr. Melissa Jenkins Mangili, a neuropsychologist who works for Brainworks RI and as a clinical assistant professor at Brown University, wrote an open letter dated Sept. 19, 2022 to the city discussing the danger of unwanted noise. In the letter, Mangili said that she was “very alarmed to hear from a Cranston friend that her neighborhood is being exposed to a constant and very loud noise issue - not just innocuous noise, but very loud gunfire from a police shooting range.”
When asked if she had taken the time to examine medically Dimeo or Pat and Alfred Schoeninger personally, who have also spoken out publicly about sounds of gunfire, in order to diagnose any type of mental or physical trauma Mangili did not respond. However, Mangili did say that “If someone tells you they have a problem, they usually do, or an ulterior motive; however, these folks are not asking for compensation, they are only asking for the quiet enjoyment of their homes, which is a civil and a legal right.”
While neighboring residents are not asking for compensation, they are asking that the gun range either be removed or enclosed completely so as to handle the issue of gunfire noises in the nearby neighborhood. Plans to enclose the range for a cost of $6 million of taxpayer money were rejected by the planning commission after being put forth by the mayor, said the mayor’s Chief of Staff Anthony Moretti.
“The mayor’s perspective is that the mayor does empathize with the neighbors whether the issues are real or just perceived,” Morretti said. “Certainly the police have been working within the ordinances and decibel levels established. The mayor has been working with the Colonel and police department to find ways of mitigating the sound in response to the concerns.”
“I feel that they want to stonewall us,” Pat Schoeninger said. “They want to stifle us, and they want to stonewall us because of the fact that it’s the police. It’s not a police issue. It’s a noise issue.”
Measures taken by police
Contrary to claims that the city has ignored concerns over the noise, Chief of Police Col. Michael Winquist said that the police have taken several steps to reduce noise levels despite disagreeing about the level of danger the sounds present on a medical level.
“We have actually installed some baffling systems, the range has an overhang, and we’ve installed the baffling to absorb some of that sound,” said Col. Winquist. “We’ve also planted some landscaping along some of the berms to further muffle the sound. We have taken steps, both through policy and physical changes, to lessen sound from the range.”
Dimeo said that, though writing a letter discussing the danger of the noise from gunfire at the range, Dr. Mangili had not heard the sound in person but had only listened to them through a recording she took with her phone and sent to the doctor. The recording, along with several others, have been posted by Dimeo to youtube and are anywhere from two to five minutes long. Gunfire can be heard in the videos in which Dimeo speaks about the consistency with which she must hear the gunfire and her belief that it is causing her, and her neighbors, to experience trauma and possible physical harm.
Despite the fact that Dimeo says she has been experiencing this trauma for five to seven years, during which she has spoken about the issue at many city council meetings, Dimeo has not received a medical diagnosis of trauma or hearing damage. If she has, she has chosen not to share it.
“Imagine hearing 10 Glocks or 10 AKs being shot all at the same time”, said Pat Schoeninger. “It’s so loud I have to leave my home. Before we started complaining they even did it on the weekend.”
Schoeninger said that the sounds can often be heard as early as 8 a.m. City ordinances state that noise levels at the property line of a public premises, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., must not exceed an average of 55 decibels when measured over the course of 15 uninterrupted minutes. Between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. the decibel limit drops to 50. However, there have been no recorded instances of gunfire being heard from the range from within these quiet hours.
At this time, 7 years into bringing this issue up to the city, Dimeo said that neither she nor the other neighbors have measured the gun fire in a manner consistent with city code.
Both Col. Winquist and Moretti agree that while the comfort of neighbors is a concern, it is a concern for all of Cranston that the police department be well trained and able to correctly use their weapons while in dangerous situations.
Claims that firing has increased
Schoeninger said that she understands that the police need to be allowed to train and shoot their weapons, but she said that the police and the gun range need to leave her community, despite the range predating the neighborhood. Having lived in her home for over 45 years, Schoeninger said that her children attended the nearby schools and that there was no gunfire like there is now and that the current noise levels only started about five years ago. Her husband, Alfred Schoeninger, said that he would say that the sound levels got louder after 9/11. If that were the case it would mean that sound levels increased over 20 years ago even though complaints about the sound only began five to seven years ago.
“I was a stay at home mom, so I was home a lot,” Pat Schoeninger said. “I know the difference. What it was before, and what it is now. I was home a lot. No way was it the way that it is now.”
Residents in the neighborhood who have raised this issue have also cited the inappropriateness of having a gun range placed so close to a school. Concerns have been raised about how quickly a school shooting would be recognized when gunfire is heard quite commonly.
“I just want to tell you this, that Western Hills and Cranston West are the two safest schools in the country,” said Major Patalano in response to citizens at the September Safety, Services and Licenses Committee meeting. “Cranston West has a police officer stationed there every day, in the school. There’s surveillance cameras throughout the school. They’re monitored at the school and at the police station. Yes the response will be fast if there’s officers at the range and something should happen.”
Police Chief Col. Winquist said that, despite having an officer on site at the school, no one from the school has raised concerns about the proximity of the range or the sound of gunfire.
Winquist also said that while rifles may not have been a weapon officers trained with years ago, the range has been used for training with shotguns for over 50 years. Shotguns, Winquist explained that the shotguns have been mainly replaced by rifles in this day and age and that it is important that officers be well trained in the use of such weapons.
“There is almost no difference in the sound level of a rifle and a shotgun,” Winquist said. “So I really can’t see how the range could be louder now. Yes for a while we had a lot of other departments using the range, but we’ve put a stop to almost all of that specifically for people dealing with this.”
With a price tag of $6 million to enclose the range, a plan that has already been denied by the city’s planning commission, residents of the neighborhood may be left with the choice of get used to the noise that has been present for almost 70 years or choose to move further away from the range. With current evidence showing no laws regarding sound levels being broken and such a hefty cost to further lessening the sound by enclosing the range, there is little more to be done by locals hoping to put an end to their involvement with the perceived nuisance.
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