The pleas from property owners next to the Police Department’s regional outdoor shooting range out on Old River Road SW reach back to at least 2004.
Those neighbors, led by retired Cedar Rapids firefighter Don Sedrel, made their way to the state office of Citizens’ Aide/Ombudsman, which asked the neighbors to try to reach a compromise with City Hall and the Police Department. In March 2007, the neighbors said the problem – the volume and frequency of noise and potential safety hazards from stray and ricocheting bullets – had changed little.
That’s when Bert Dalmer, assistant citizens’ aide/ombudsman, began looking into what state law might say about the police firing range so close to neighbors, Dalmer now tells City Hall in a letter.
In that letter that arrived at City Hall this week, Dalmer concludes that the outdoor range, at 2727 Old River Rd. SW, may violate state law.
He makes note that the particular section of state law in question falls under a section of state law that prohibits hunting near buildings and feedlots.
Nonetheless, Dalmer argues that the law prohibits discharging a firearm within 200 yards of a building occupied by people without the consent of the owner or tenant.
He says four buildings are within 200 yards of the police firing range: Tracy and Cheryl Sedrel’s home at 2901 Old River Rd. SW; the home of Pat Freilinger at 2949 Old River Rd. SW; the home of Chris Simonsen at 2849 Old River Rd. SW; and a business operated by Mike McMurrin at 2665 Old River Rd. SW. Don Sedrel’s place at 3261 Old River Rd. SW is a little farther away, though on Thursday he said he now owns 2901 Old River Rd. SW, too.
Dalmer says the specific section of state law allows exceptions for target shooting ranges that are open to the public and have been used prior to the erection of a building occupied by the public after May 14, 2004.
However, the police range is not open to the public and does not meet the second part of the exception. The range opened in the late 1960s, and two of the occupied buildings nearby were build many years before that.
Dalmer says city officials have noted in the past that the city has taken steps to better supervise the shooting range and to limit the times when shooting occurs.
But he says, “Regardless, I question whether these mitigating actions are adequate to address the prohibitions (in state law).” Neighbors have continued to complain that too little has changed, he adds.
Neither Police Chief Greg Graham nor City Attorney Jim Flitz returned calls on Thursday.
Out at Freilinger’s home and shop on Old River Road SW on Thursday afternoon, he and Don Sedrel said little had changed to make living next to the shooting range tolerable. Law enforcement officers were shooting at the range Thursday morning, they said, and shooting practice had taken place every day this week, Sedrel noted.
Sedrel said what has started out 50 years ago as a pistol gallery for city police officers has become a regional range with city, county, state and federal agencies using it. There are days when neighbors might have to listen to 8,000 rounds of shooting go on, he said.
“There’s absolutely no excuse that anyone should have to live with that kind of noise,” Sedrel added.
Neither he nor Freilinger have heard anything from city officials about the range for what Sedrel thought might be two years.
Both wondered if the city could take its shooting practice to the Matsell Bridge Natural Area near Viola where there is a public shooting range and where the Linn County Sheriff’s Department is establishing a range.
Both said they would not consent to the status quo, but Freilinger said he might be open to working with the Police Department if there is no option in the short run and if closing the range prevented the department from performing its job.
One thing that has changed is that the Linn County Sheriff’s Office has decided to leave the city’s shooting range and open its own in rural Linn County. Meanwhile, the Iowa City Police Department, which also has used the Cedar Rapids range, has been looking for its own place to practice.
Most interestingly, in January 2009, Cedar Rapids Police Chief Greg Graham and other city officials proposed building a $35-million Regional Public Safety Training Center with an indoor shooting range. One of the arguments cited for the need to build a new center was the problems associated with the city’s existing shooting range.
“The State Ombudsman is investigating the possibility of closing the police shooting range because of noise pollution and its proximity to houses and businesses in the area,” the city’s written request for federal funds for the new training center states.
The request went on to say that “the current situation dictates drastic changes and soon.”
In his letter to City Hall in late April, the state’s Dalmer asks city officials to respond within 30 days if it believes his arguments are in error or if the state law does not apply to the city’s police shooting range. After a review of the city’s response, he will decide if formal recommendations to the city are warranted, he says.