With a national debate raging over policing, some elected officials in the largest city in western Massachusetts say now is not the time to spend money for a police department shooting range.
The Springfield City Council voted to cut $800,000 from the proposed city budget – the amount the city owes on the first-year lease for a new police shooting range.
During nearly two hours of debate Monday, several councilors said now was an inappropriate time to finance a gun range for police when emphasis should be put on training that deescalates violence. Others complained the funds had been slipped into the $729 million spending plan with no explanation from the city administration.
In the end, the 8-5 vote may be only symbolic. Chief Administration and Finance Officer T.J. Plante told Councilors the lease had already been signed, renovations to the building have started, and he will look to take the funds from somewhere else in the budget.
"I think cutting the $800,000 right now is penny wise and pound foolish," said Plante.
City Councilor Orlando Ramos, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said following all the protests and demands for police accountability that took place in Springfield and across the nation in recent weeks, approving a big expense for a shooting range sends “a horrible message.”
"Why are we discussing a gun range now?" asked Ramos. "Who came up with this idea to say this is the time for us to be talking about teaching our officers how to shoot?"
Noting that the lease for the gun range is for a 20-year term, City Councilor Trayce Whitfield, who chairs the Finance Committee, said the city is on the hook to spend $16 million for the facility.
"It feels uncomfortable and thrown at us," said Whitfield. "We didn't have a meeting about it. It was a suprise."
Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said the shooting range located in the basement of the Springfield Police headquarters building is substandard and unhealthy because of poor ventilation. She said the department looked into using a private gun club in the suburbs or building a new range, but rejected those alternatives as being impractical or too expensive.
"It is just desperately needed right now," Clapprood said about the new shooting range. "This is the best option for the police department."
City Councilor Malo Brown, whose father was a Springfield police officer, argued against cutting the funds.
"I want to serve and protect our community," said Brown. "800,00. That is nothing. What we need to do is ask for a new police station. We need more, more, more, more, more."
Joining Ramos and Whitfield in voting to cut the funds were Victor Davila, Adam Gomez, Marcus Williams, Jesse Lederman, Melvin Edwards, and City Council President Justin Hurst.
Opposed were Sean Curran, Mike Fenton, Tim Allen, Kateri Walsh, and Brown.
The Council will resume budget deliberations Tuesday evening. If the Council fails to approve a budget by the start of the new fiscal year July 1st, the spending plan recommended by the mayor is automatically adopted.
Mayor Domenic Sarno’s budget calls for no layoffs and no cuts to essential services.