STAFFORD – At least a dozen residents showed up at the Stafford Township council meeting earlier this month to voice their opposition to a proposed police shooting range in their neighborhood.
Apparently, the outcry worked – township authorities have abandoned plans to locate the range at the Saint Meena Avenue location.
Mayor Gregory E. Myhre said he and other local officials originally wanted to present the plans for the shooting range at a special gathering on July 29.
As he announced cancellation of the meeting, Myhre provided details by way of a Facebook video presentation.
“We want to make sure when we do a project, we have the support of the community,” shared Myhre. “…We have received the input from the community and determined it is not the ideal site.”
According to Myhre, authorities presented several sites to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP only approved the location situated by Saint Meena Avenue, which appeared to be a clear area – but also in a residential section of the municipality.
Approximately 600 homeowners received letters regarding the proposed shooting range, which also invited them to the informational seminar. A petition immediately began circulating in opposition to the gun range and received in excess of 300 signatures in just a couple of days.
“I think that if there’s a pressing need for the police department to have this range, then it should be considered,” said James Meaney, who lives on Ridge Avenue. “But there’s also a pressing need to maintain our residential area.”
Other neighbors brought up a variety of reasons that the proposed location did not seem appropriate. Many offered their experiences as coming from the law enforcement or military worlds to negate the range in their area.
A gentleman whose first name was Seth and said he lived on Saint Meena Avenue offered a different perspective.
“There are at least three endangered species on the property,” Seth said. “And you’re talking about building a twenty-foot-wide road through their habitat that’s going to disturb them.”
Seth expanded his concerns to include the toxicity involved as thousands of rounds went off. He mentioned how the sounds of gunfire would permeate the air during Southern Regional sporting events.
“I believe if you made notification to the township for all the 2,000 students who attend the high school and middle school,” said another Saint Meena Avenue resident, “you would have an even bigger reaction than just our emotional response.”
Township Administrator Matthew von der Hayden said authorities looked at numerous locations for the range. These included Warren Grove, an area across from Ocean Acres, land on Route 9 and by Stafford Park.
The Stafford Police Department had its own shooting range from at least 1987 until 2004 located at Stafford Park. The landfill where Stafford Park was located needed to be remediated and the range was therefore abandoned.
Authorities recognized the need for a new range facility and allocated $950,000 for the project in 2015. The initial plan was to build an indoor shooting range within the municipal complex, but costs at that time trended as high as $1.5 million – making the project financially infeasible.
Police Chief Thomas Dellane emphasized that Stafford’s police training program exceeds the state requirements. He sees it as the difference between qualifying to carry as weapon as to training properly. He indicated that increasing levels of training also helps to cut down liability issues in deadly force incidents – and also includes de-escalation techniques.
“It is critically important in my professional opinion,” Dellane said. “The higher level of training, the higher level of confidence, partnered with de-escalation skills and their proficiency in firearms use, results in less liability for the township and less use of deadly force.”
According to Dellane, the department has trained at the facility in Waretown. However, scheduling conflicts pose a problem. Other options include partnering with the Little Egg Harbor Police Department in an old landfill area. The problem is its proximity to residential areas.
Stafford authorities have even looked at setting up training in other counties, but all give priority to their own agencies.