Community Noise Lab and Cranston residents rally to discuss noise pollution from firing range

Brown researchers study how unhealthy noise levels are impacting Cranston's schools and neighborhoods

Erica Walker, RGSS Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and founder of the Community Noise Lab at Brown University, is working with Cranston residents to tackle noise pollution stemming from a local police training facility and firing range. Situated just across the road from Western Hills Middle School and Cranston West High School, the firing range has raised concerns about how it might affect students’ learning and the community’s overall well-being.

To address these issues, the Community Noise Lab and Swearer Center at Brown University organized a forum titled, "Firing Back" held on November 13 at the School of Public Health.

At the event, Juliet Fang, a second-year undergraduate student at Brown studying Public Health and Geology-Biology, shared data indicating that the noise levels from the firing range were higher than what the city of Cranston legally allows. Her study underscored the link between noise pollution and various health issues, including disrupted sleep, heightened stress, and cognitive impairments, as well as chronic conditions like hypertension and heart disease.

The Cranston Police Academy operates the range, using it for officer training and qualifying tests. The Rhode Island Municipality Police Force also trains and tests 60 to 120 cadets there every spring and fall. Fang’s study shows that the Cranston force alone - excluding practice and training time - shoots 48,000 bullets for their qualifying tests. While it is required that officers engage in regular firearm training, residents and researchers are concerned that the noise distracts students and impairs their learning. 

According to the study, Cranston students report that teachers have to raise their voices to be heard above the gunfire; a special-education assistant at Western Hills said many of her students have difficulty learning while shots are being fired, which can sometimes go on all day. “Being barraged by gunfire 8 to 12 hours a day is inflicting physical and mental harm,” said Cranston resident and panelist, Pat Schoeninger. 

Michael Winquist, Cranston’s police chief, declined to participate in the panel discussion, but he has defended the range as a necessity, highlighting its importance for the training of police officers who are legally required to demonstrate firearm proficiency. He has also made efforts to ease community concerns during visits to students and teachers by differentiating between “good” and “bad” gunfire. 

Yet residents and researchers stressed the adverse effects on the community’s mental health, quality of life, and safety. They also argued that reassurances about “good” versus “bad” gunfire are beside the point; the noise was negatively impacting the learning environment and having the disconcerting effect of numbing students to the din of semi-automatic pistols, rifles and shotguns.

Fang shared data at the event that she and a team of Cranston residents collected from November 2022 to April 2023. Their measurements from various locations at different times of day revealed noise levels from gunfire surpassing the city’s legal limit of 55 decibels, at times reaching as high as 70, which are also far above World Health Organization guidelines.


The sound of gunfire


This video, taken by a Cranston resident in October 2022, illustrates the noise pollution that is impacting neighboring communities.

During the event, residents shared their concerns, reporting difficulties concentrating on everyday activities like putting children down for a nap, working from home, and simply being in their yards. They also expressed concerns about the normalization of gunfire in the community, which could potentially blur the lines during real emergencies - especially in this age of mass and school shootings. “During an actual emergency, we wouldn’t know who to call because we’re so used to it,” said Cranston resident and panelist, Martha DiMeo. 

Citizens feel that efforts to address the issue have been met with resistance from Cranston Mayor Ken Hopkins. Moreover, despite a legislative attempt by State Representative Brandon Potter to solve the problem, little progress has been made, leaving the community feeling unheard.

Cranston residents at the event stressed the need to deal with this issue urgently, highlighting not only mental well-being and quality-of-life issues, but also the potential threats to community safety and security. They hope the data they helped collect will spark dialogue and lead to actionable solutions for the Cranston West neighborhood.