Blumenthal Hears A Boom

When neighbors and city officials invited him to New Haven to hear a “pop-pop-pop” of automatic rifles Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal pronounced the noise “irrefutably intrusive” to the neighborhood—and pledged his support in chasing down $6.5 million in federal money to move the firing range indoors. 

The noisy visit took place Wednesday morning behind the New Haven Police Academy at 710 Sherman Parkway, where city, state and federal law enforcement officials practice firing guns in an outdoor range. Neighbors have complained for years about the sound of gunfire blasting through Newhallville and Beaver Hills.

The city has struck a deal to move the police academy to an abandoned Army base on Wintergreen Avenue early next year. But the firing range will stay put at Sherman Avenue until the city finds $6.5 million from the federal government to build an indoor range at the Wintergreen site, according to Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts.

In his visit to the firing range Wednesday, Blumenthal (at left in photo with Mayor John DeStefano) vowed to find the money to make that possible. He said the federal government “bears serious responsibility” for the range, which several federal agencies use for target practice. He said building an indoor range is an important opportunity to “improving the quality of the training facility, as well as the quality of life” in the neighborhood.

“I’m committed to doing whatever I can” to move the firing range to an upgraded facility that doesn’t disturb neighbors, said Blumenthal, who sits on the Committee on Armed Services. “The fiscal challenges ahead should not prevent” the project from getting funded.

As he spoke in a police academy classroom, the sound of 40-caliber handguns pierced the air.

Sgt. Anthony Campbell, the new head of the Police Academy, led a half-dozen neighbors, several aldermen, Mayor John DeStefano and Blumenthal outside into the drizzle for a tour of the range.

Before heading down the sloped driveway into the bowl-shaped firing range, visitors had to insert Aearo Classic corded ear plugs.

Nan Bartow (at right in photo), of the Friends of Beaver Pond Park, said the gunfire is a steady disruption to the neighborhood and especially to the park, which sits right next to the firing range.

“When I work in the park, it’s just horrendous,” Bartow said. When she takes groups to the park for environmental education, she said, sometimes “we can’t be heard.”

At night, she said, the sound of gunshots is “extra scary.”

Sgt. Campbell said police have curtailed night-time shooting for that reason, even though cops need more practice shooting in the dark because so many shootings take place at night. That’s one huge benefit of an indoor firing range, he said—it can simulate a nighttime environment. Campbell said the academy restricts target practice to weekdays. The schedule varies, but when a new class of recruits come in, as there is now, they often spend five to six hours a day shooting in the range. The training is a key component of the training, Campbell said.

“Some of them have never held a weapon before.”

Veteran cops also return for firearms training, as do officials from the U.S. Marshals Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Agency, the IRS, the Coast Guard, nearby town police forces, and state police, according to city officials. Federal agents visit the site about two to three times a month, for two or three days at a time, according to Campbell.

As politicians gathered for a demonstration, Bartow asked if police could demonstrate one of the more disruptive noises—the boom of the “flash bang.” The explosive is used to divert a suspect’s attention, allowing cops to enter a building in a hostage situation, for example, Campbell said.

The flash bang “sounds like some horrible, big explosion,” Bartow recalled. “You do jump out of your skin.”

Assistant Chief Thaddeus Reddish said the flash bang is rarely used at the academy, in part because it’s so expensive. But he obliged Bartow’s request to detonate one. Visitors also watched Hamden police demonstrate a drill using M4 rifles. Click on the play arrow at the top of the story to watch.

“The sound is irrefutably intrusive,” Blumenthal concluded after the demonstration. “Clearly it has an impact on the neighborhood.”

Alderwoman Brenda Foskey-Cyrus (pictured), in whose ward the firing range sits, said she has received “plenty of complaints” about the sound.

“With all the shooting that’s going on, to have the shooting range out here is no help,” she said. The first bullet “scares you. It wakes you up,” she said. Then “when you hear back-to-back, you realize it’s just the shooting range.”

The noise “has been a real problem” for years, said Francine Caplan, a Beaver Hills neighbor who chairs the Firing Range Committee, a group of neighbors and city officials targeting the problem.

A solution to the problem is now closer at hand than it ever has been before: CAO Smuts said the city has approval from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Justice to move the police academy to the George D. Libby Army Reserve Center at 200 Wintergreen Ave. The city just needs approval from the Department of Defense, which should come in January or February, Smuts said. At that point, the city will get the title to the property and can move the academy there with little need for renovation.

The Wintergreen site offers bigger classroom space, Smuts said. The firing range will stay on Sherman Avenue, however, until the city raises money to build an indoor firing range there.

Blumenthal expressed optimism in the project. He said he sees consensus—between elected officials, neighbors and police—around a common solution.

“Everybody is together on the need for the new range,” he said.

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posted by: anonymous on October 10, 2012  3:12pm

It’s nice that Blumenthal flew up and that the academy is moving, but there’s still no timeline for moving the range, despite years of protests and complaints from the neighborhood.

It’s sad, but the fact is that if this unbelievably disruptive government property were located in East Rock or Westville, and not in Newhallville, it would have been moved decades ago.

For the cost of all the official “visits”, community meetings and press conferences and staff time spent on this over the past 5 years, I think we could have had a range by now.