View Larger Map
Groton Selectmen voted Monday evening (April 11) to keep the town police firing range closed to all but Groton officers and Internal Revenue Service agents, extending a period of quiet that started late last year when the range closed for the winter. In addition, the range would be used only for qualification testing with sidearms, not for practice sessions. The limitation pleased the group of 8-10 neighbors of the Cow Pond Brook Road range, who gave the selectmen a round of applause after their vote.
The Selectmen passed a motion based on Town Manager Mark Haddad’s recommendation: “I suggest… that you vote to keep the range closed to everyone but Groton police officers and the IRS and within three months, the chief comes back and updates you on the NRA audit and the regionalization. I think that’s a reasonable compromise.”
After the meeting, Haddad explained that he meant to separate the two issues. The range will be limited to the two groups of shooters, period, unless the board revisits the issue. Palma’s report to the board, to take place within three months, should concentrate on two things: the results of the NRA safety audit and Palma’s effort to replace the range with a regional indoor shooting facility.
The Groton department numbers 23 regular and reserve officers. The IRS contingent is about 15 agents. The Selectmen’s vote trims the total number of officers who may use the range to about a tenth the number who were eligible last year. Also, the action specifies that the range may only be used for two or three times per year certification tests. Groton officers will practice on their own at other public or private ranges, not the town range.
Police Chief Donald Palma had originally recommended that the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council r(NEMLEC) and Middlesex Sheriff’s Department SWAT teams should be allowed to use the range. On paper, the two teams have 45 and 25 members, respectively. But the actual number of people attending training would have been less because of individual member’s conflicting duties and because the membership overlaps: the Sheriff’s team is part of the NEMLEC team.
Instead of supporting that proposal, the Board of Selectmen backed Groton residents who had complained of too much noise and heavy range use.
And they took a different slant on regionalization. Acting to implement another suggestion, the Board directed Palma to contact Congressman Nicki Tsongas and Massachusetts Senators Scott Brown and John Kerry to seek federal funds for a regional indoor police range and training facility. They pointed out that Groton had provided the range as a regional resource for about 20 years, and only curtailed that commitment because the need for the resource overwhelmed the community. But they signalled their intention to keep Groton involved in regional activities by spearheading and offering to host a replacement for the outdoor range.
Selectman Fran Dillon told the board that Palma had addressed the issues and questions related to range safety, control, and operation that residents and selectmen raised at the March 28 meeting.
Leading the list was range safety. Palma initially requested a range safety audit by the National Rifle Association after meeting with residents last fall. Palma said that he had talked with NRA representatives in January, and both agreed to schedule the range audit in this spring. Palma said last week that he expected to set the date within two or three weeks, adding that he thought the range was quite safe: “I think we already meet or exceed what the NRA’s going to tell us.”
He said that the Selectmen’s insistence on local control of the range had been in place for some time. For the last two years, only he, Lieutenant James Cullen, and the department’s range officer have had the combination to the range lock, he said. Palma stressed that the range is only suitable for pistols and short-range weapons so those are the only types of weapons in use.
Dillon said that NEMLEC and the Sheriff’s Department would support Groton’s proposal for a new regional indoor facility. NEMLEC includes 52 town or cities and two sheriff’s departments. Groton provides two officers for NEMLEC’s motorcycle unit and Rapid Response team. Palma is a consultant to the NEMLEC incident management unit, and Connell is a consultant to the Rapid Response team.
NEMLEC Member Communities Include 52 Cities and Towns and Two Sheriff's Departments
NEMLEC President James Cormier, who is also Chief of Police in Reading, said his organization understands the Groton situation, but did say that the Groton range is important both to his organization and its member communities because: “There are not a lot of options, a lot of range time, available in the region. We try not to overuse any particular facility, but if we lose a facility it puts strains on the facilities that are left. We try to take advantage of all the opportunities in all the communities that are available to us.”
Groton gets its pay back from NEMLEC fairly often, Palma said. “They have a number or specialized units that all the towns couldn’t afford to have by themselves. And we use them say, six to ten times a year. We’ve used the STARs team, the School Threat and Response team, a number of different times. We’ve had the Rapid Response Unit, which gives you a large amount of manpower right away, in several times — I use them for missing person searches. We’ve used the K9 units a number of times. The SWAT team has been on standby twice in the last year. Fortunately I didn’t need them, but they were on standby, ready to help. The incident management unit, the mobile command post; we use that every year for the Groton Road Race. Although it’s a Sheriff’s vehicle, it’s a NEMLEC unit. And the computer crimes unit we’ve been using a lot more than we ever did.”
Haddad pointed out that residents may be seeing regionalization in operation more often than they realize; that it isn’t always a crisis situation. “By providing a regional service to other officers, they also provide things to us that help out. For example, helping us out when we need details for the road race, for graduation, for football games, things like that. People don’t see the benefit to that directly, but believe me, there is a benefit.”
Members of the BoS and Haddad are keen to reap the benefits of a regional approach to provide better services. Haddad said: “Regionalization is a goal that the selectmen established this year. We’ve done it with the building inspector, we’re trying to do it with an economic development director, we already have a regional dispatching facility with Dunstable, we have a regional school district… By regionalizing, you can provide a better level of services less expensively, so I always look to regionalization as an option — if we can do it together with someone else better and less expensively, why not do that?”