An event at the Community Noise Lab at Brown University marks the most recent salvo in the ongoing battle between the Cranston Police Department and residents neighboring its police academy firing …
An event at the Community Noise Lab at Brown University marks the most recent salvo in the ongoing battle between the Cranston Police Department and residents neighboring its police academy firing range.
The public forum held Nov. 14, entitled “Firing Back in Cranston, RI!” served as a platform to announce the findings of a study performed over the past year by Brown University professor of epidemiology Erica Walker and sophomore studying public health Juliet Fang researching the potentially harmful noise pollution the firing range is inflicting on the surrounding area, which includes dozens of homes and two public schools.
Fang and Walker found over their study that noise levels during shooting hours in the neighborhoods surround the firing range were well above the decibel limit deemed harmful by the World Health Organization, and above the limit set by the city of Cranston’s own noise ordinances.
Fang described the methods they used to the Cranston Herald. “We collected data in the fall of 2022, to the spring of 2023,” Fang said. “And we made sure to collect data when there would be minimal shooting, a lot of shooting and also an intermediate level of shooting.”
With the help of Martha DiMeo, a resident living within less than a mile of the range who has been a particularly vocal adversary of the shooting range, Fang reached out to several area homeowners to ask to set up noise monitors in their backyards. Five sites were chosen ranging from .3 miles to 2.1 miles from the firing range. The monitors recorded a week of neighborhood sound, while the residents kept a log of each time they heard shooting. From the logs, Fang and Walker could find when noise levels would be at their peak. They then would compare the level of noise during those periods to the hours before and after.
At four of the five locations, noise levels exceeded 60 decibels. At one location, it rose to 70 decibels. In the study, 55 decibels is cited as the legal limit for noise in residential areas.
Any constant loud noise can be distressing, but Fang also spoke on the harm that constant exposure to gunfire in particular could do to a person’s well being.
“If this was like a more pointed noise,” she said. “As opposed to vehicular noise. But it's also something that we are supposed to associate with danger. And so I would say it's probably more damaging in the long run.”
Discussion around this issue has often centered on Cranston West High School and Western Hills Middle School, which sit less than a mile from the school. Community members spoke of the desensitization these students experience to gunfire. A video was shown of students out on the field not reacting at all while gunfire crackles nearby. Critics of the gun range say this both causes unnecessary distraction and anxiety in students, and makes them less likely to react quickly to a mass shooting event. However, no sound levels were monitored on school property.
Fang considers this study only the beginning of the Community Noise Lab’s research into this subject. Plans are ongoing for new studies which would put monitors closer to the firing range.
The Community Noise Lab is not alone in its monitoring of decibel levels around the firing range, however. The Cranston Police Department itself has conducted investigations into the noise, and its findings contradict that of Walker and Fang.
In a statement to the Cranston Herald, Cranston Police Chief Colonel Michael J. Winquist points out a number of inconsistencies and inaccuracies as he sees them in the Noise Lab’s studies.
“The range property is zoned as ‘special use/open space’ and designated as ‘public premises,’” Winquist writes. “According to the city noise ordinance, the maximum allowable decibels to the property line for this property classification is 75 during daytime hours (misreported as 55 decibels in the news story). Certified decibel readers and officers trained to use the equipment documented that pistol and rifle fire heard in the nearby neighborhood are far below the maximum permitted levels. A sound test was performed by firing multiple shots from a pistol and rifle at the range. Simultaneous readings recorded in the nearby neighborhood registered 46.6 decibels and 48.7 decibels, respectively.”
The news story referenced is presumably one written in the Providence Journal on November 14 in which the noise ordinance for the city of Cranston was listed as 55 decibels. In Fang’s report, the 55 decibel limit is cited for residential properties from 7a.m. to 10p.m., which is accurate to Cranston city’s noise ordinances and consistent with where all of her noise samples were collected.
Winquist also cites a number of changes the academy has made to be less disruptive to neighbors.
“Firing at the facility is limited to an average of 65 days annually for 408 hours (17.8% of days and 4.65% of hours of the year),” he writes. “It is not used on the weekends, and for the limited times it is used in the evenings for low light qualifications, all firing ceases by 8:30 PM. Over the past two years, we have made many changes to mitigate the noise, including reducing the number of outside police departments using the range and excluding rifle fire by external agencies. The most impactful change made in April of this year was discontinuing the use of the facility by the Rhode Island Municipal Police Training Academy. The academy previously used the range for 20 days per year, training close to 120 police recruits.”
Mayor Ken Hopkins also provided a statement to the Herald, in which he described the measures the city has taken and has attempted to take to mitigate the nuisance the firing range causes.
“In working with the CPD we have taken action to reduce the volume, hours of use, and number of law enforcement agencies using the range,” Hopkins writes.
“Earlier this year, my administration applied for a multi-million-dollar state grant to provide funding to mitigate sound impacts from the range. Unfortunately, this application was not granted.”
“Additionally, this year, I proposed that capital funds be budgeted to enclose the range to virtually eliminate external sound. Despite my proposal and encouragement, the City Plan Commission voted to eliminate the police shooting range from my capital budget request.”
Both Winquist and Hopkins stressed the necessity for the Cranston Police Department to continue using the firing range and the vital training it provides.
This debate in recent years has expanded beyond the City of Cranston and to the State House, where in 2021 Representative Brandon Potter, who represents the relevant neighborhoods in Cranston, introduced a bill which would ban shooting ranges within one mile of a school. The bill has failed twice and has no sponsor in the Senate.
“I think most reasonable minded people are going to agree that school children should not be listening to gunfire while in the classroom,” Potter said.
Sometimes when I was campaigning, children would answer the door,” he said. “I would ask them about the shooting range and they would tell me that they weren’t bothered by it, and that they hear it all the time. It’s so normalized and so commonplace that the sound of gunfire isn’t alarming like it would be otherwise.”
Potter says the police and mayor have not been honest about the measures they have described in regards to the shooting range. “The police have both then and subsequently lied to us and lied to me about the decibel readings and the frequency and the police departments operating there. They told me they were not allowing any outside agencies anymore to use them, but then we found out that they were.”
Potter encourages his constituents to treat the administration in good faith, but describes the mayor’s office as uncooperative. He says the mayor allows the police chief to handle matters that really ought to be the mayor’s purview. “The people of Cranston didn’t elect the police chief, they elected the mayor and I think that he has a responsibility to listen to the people and not be dismissive.”
Despite all the energy surrounding this issue, little progress has been made or looks to be made in the near term. Potter plans to reintroduce his bill in the coming year. Fang and Walker will continue their study into the noise pollution in the neighborhoods around the police academy. The police will continue training at the range. And, for the foreseeable future, residents of western Cranston will continue to hear the sound of gunfire echoing down their streets.
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