“I hear every bullet that is fired at that range,” is what Martha DiMeo had to say about Cranston’s Police Academy Training Complex on Phenix Avenue. DiMeo resides on Laconia Road …
“I hear every bullet that is fired at that range,” is what Martha DiMeo had to say about Cranston’s Police Academy Training Complex on Phenix Avenue. DiMeo resides on Laconia Road and often hears shooting between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. – even into the evening hours. She and nine other residents spoke before the City Council Monday night to explain how the constant sound of gunfire has caused a quality of life issue for residents.
Cranston Police Department’s Major Todd Patalano said that the department has been shooting at the area off Phenix Avenue since 1952. Most of the surrounding neighborhood homes and schools were built after the range – with Cranston West being erected in 1958 and Western Hills in 1970.
Still, residents claim the sound has become louder and more consistent over time. Patricia Schoeninger has lived in her home for the past 44 years and said there are days when she has to leave the house because the noise is intolerable. Sherry Izzi, who lives on Midland Drive, said she works remotely and has ended Zoom calls due to the gunfire; two others also said the noise affects their remote work life.
The conversation focused heavily on students at Cranston West and Western Hills who have gotten used to the sound of gunfire. Schoeninger said it would take kids longer to recognize the difference between a school shooting versus a regular practice session at the training center. With the growing prominence of school shootings, residents suggested that students should be desensitized to the sound of gunfire and could also have mental health effects from the noise.
Scott Robinson has lived in the area for the past 25 years and has two kids at Cranston West. Last year, his daughter had a new teacher who didn’t know about the training facility. When she heard the gunfire, students explained the situation to her before she notified the principal about needing to go into lockdown; Robinson said she was in disbelief. Additionally, at his son’s track meet, the son’s friend from Burriville heard the noise and dropped to the ground. Robinson said his son laughed at the friend and said the sound was a normal thing to hear.
“Western Hills and Cranston West are the two safest schools in the country,” said Patalano.
He added that Cranston West has a police officer stationed in the school every day and there are surveillance cameras onsite which both the school and police station monitor. Patalano said the department’s response would be quick to the school if there were officers at the training facility should a situation occur at the school. He added that the department has not received a single complaint for the gunfire from students or teachers at the schools.
Patalano said the range helps with producing professionally skilled officers and precise policing. The department is working on mitigating the noise pollution by working with the administration to obtain federal grant funding to put toward an enclosed range. Resident Peter Sczerbinski supported the idea of an enclosed shooting range, saying that he’s been outside the one in Coventry and couldn’t hear a thing from outside.
Patalano also countered some of the residents' claims. Individuals said shotguns and automatic weapons were used at the range, followed by Patalano saying the department does not use these firearms at the facility and instead use AR-15s and Glock pistols. Additionally, the FBI no longer uses the range. Numerous outside departments used the range, but that number has been reduced to three departments (Johnston, Smithfield and East Providence) due to residents’ complaints. He said these outside departments use the range one week a year. The Rhode Island Municipal Police Academy also uses the range for two weeks during every session of the police academy. Cranston Police then use September and October for their qualifications.
Residents told the council that the sound of gunfire sometimes continues into the night. One resident said his family used to have dinners outside on their patio but they aren't able to do so anymore because the shooting is so loud that individuals can’t have a conversation.
Patalano said there is a list of days and times when officers will be training and the list has been shared with concerned parties. The list includes the times police will be using the facility and he said that while the department trains in daytime conditions, it is important to be trained in the dark.
“They have to be able to encounter and make the situations as realistic as possible and that’s why we train at night,” said Patalano.
Some residents mentioned that shooting occurs on Sundays. Patalano said the range is not open on the weekends and there is camera footage to prove no shooting is taking place at the facility. Some residents have even taken to recording sound decibels to see if the sound falls in the range that the city allows. While one resident had a reading around 85 decibels, Patalano said the department went to Midland Drive, Preston Avenue and Laconia Road earlier Monday with a certified noise meter instructor who recorded a highest reading of 53 decibels on Midland Drive; this number is within the department’s 55 decibel limit. Patalano said they used AR-152 (their most powerful weapons) for this test.
“We’re sympathetic, however we cannot just stop qualifying officers,” Patalano said. “We have no place to qualify. Nobody wants to take a police department with 153 members and qualify with rifles and handguns.”
He mentioned that over time the department has implemented various techniques to mitigate sound.
The administration and police department have two pending grants for enclosing the facility – one submitted on April 8 and the other on April 21 of this year. If the grants are approved, approximately $1.6 million will be given to solve this problem.
Chief of Staff Anthony Moretti said Mayor Ken Hopkins hears and understands the residents’ concerns.
“Things come down to money sometimes,” said Moretti.
He said hopefully the city will obtain one or both grants, which the administration is working on with Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse on. He said Hopkins is also working with the governor on lobbying for Cranston on this issue. Moretti said if these two events fail, he suggests that come the November election, residents vote for the city buildings referendum for $3.5 million which (if approved) allows the city to go out to bond for a project like this.
“If that be the case, the mayor promises to propose in the next capital budget cycle the completion of the enclosing of the range,” Moretti said.
The council agreed that something needs to be done, but there is nothing that can be resolved right now.
Councilwoman Jessica Marino said as a parent with a child at Cranston West, she is familiar with the sounds. She believes the range is in the right location because it has been there for a long time and respects the administration and police’s efforts on enclosing the facility. She added that she is comforted that the training academy is in its current location since the police station has moved to the other end of the city. If there were an issue at Western Hills or Cranston West, there could be a quicker response from police.
Councilwoman Nicole Renzulli inquired about the city potentially using American Rescue Plan Act money to address the situation. The city’s auditor, David MiMaio, said based on ARPA the guidelines, there were residents who fell under the purview but would like to look again at the guidelines to confirm.
Moretti said if the city secured the funding, it could take at the earliest 12 to 15 months to design and build the enclosed shooting area.
“The bottom line is, it has to stay open for now,” Patalano said.
DiMeo sent the Cranston Herald a statement Tuesday morning on the previous night’s meeting.
“Last night, members of the community spoke eloquently, and together, painted a stark picture of the trauma and danger being inflicted on the community. But that message seems to have fallen on deaf ears. This is not a situation that can wait two or three years for funding that may or may not come through. The fact is, if a mass shooting happens in Meshanticut, many people would be slaughtered before it could be determined it’s an active shooter, and not gunfire coming from the police range. Nothing short of shutting down the range immediately will suffice. As the National Guard did, the police can move the qualifying testing to a military base,” said DiMeo.
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