Safety is being called into question at the state's municipal police academy. The Channel 3 Eyewitness News I-Team found that a warning about an issue on the firing range didn't lead to action until someone got hurt.
The facility is the place police recruits learn a skill that could someday save an officer's life, but for a recruit from Shelton, the range at the police academy was the place he was injured.
The Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden is where more than 200 police recruits from departments all over Connecticut are trained every year. It's run by the police officer standards and training council called POST.
It's a statewide organization that sets the rules for what a police officer needs to know before they can hit the streets.
The Shelton recruit was hurt in early August. An injury report obtained by the I-Team through a Freedom of Information request said he was standing and waiting as others were shooting when he was hit in the finger with a bullet fragment. He was bleeding profusely and had to go to the hospital.
The I-Team started digging after getting a tip about the injury. On May 2, more than three months before that Shelton recruit was hurt, a police academy training instructor wrote a memo to his boss and said the range was in need of repair. Cromwell Police Chief Anthony Salvatore is the Chairman of the POST Council.
"The memorandum doesn't say it's an immediate threat, it doesn't say that it should be shut down immediately, it's just a list, albeit to use the term a laundry list of items that individual would like to see addressed," he said.
The memo doesn't express any urgency, but it does call one requested repair a "significant safety issue." The very first item on the list is to re-grade the sand berm, which is a hill of sand designed to stop bullets after they pass through the targets.
The memo from the range training officer says "the berm slope has deteriorated. Significant material has fallen to the base of the berm reducing its effectiveness and increasing the chance for ricochets hitting people on the firing line."
Salvatore said after the memo in May, academy administrator Thomas Flaherty immediately began work to get funding for repairs.
"Being a governmental agency, we had to find the funding," he said. "Chief Flaherty was in the process of finding the funding to make those necessary repairs."
But as they worked to make the repairs, they kept the range open.
It's used by hundreds of recruits and many active officers every year for training. Everything was fine until that injury Aug. 7.
Then the range was shut down.
"In May when that first memo came out, was there consideration given to shutting it down right then or it didn't have that urgency?" Chief Investigative reporter Eric Parker asked.
"I don't think we gave any consideration to shutting the range down in May," Salvatore said. "What we gave was consideration to find funding to make repairs to the range. It still took a little while to find the funds, the funds were located and repairs were made to the range."
Flaherty told the I-Team by phone that more than $60,000 in repairs were completed and the range reopened in September.
The berm was re-graded and the lead from spent bullets was removed, reducing the chances a new bullet would hit an old bullet and cause a ricochet. Both Flaherty and Salvatore insisted they're not 100 percent sure the berm is what caused the ricochet, but once the repairs were completed the range was reopened.
Several emails obtained by the I-Team immediately after the injury, including one from Connecticut Commissioner of Public Safety Reuben Bradford, blamed a ricochet from the berm.
It was Bradford who ultimately authorized the money for the emergency repairs.
"We don't want to put anybody in danger or in any situation where anybody's going to get hurt," Salvatore said. "You always wear eye and ear protection because there's always the potential of a ricochet or brass being projected toward an individual."
In the past six years, the post academy has taught shooting to more than 1,000 recruits. Each spent 75 hours on firearms training, both in the classroom and on the range. During the 23-week academy program, local chiefs are trusting the men and women they want to hire to the academy staff, and Salvatore said despite this injury, the academy does a good job with training and safety.
"I really don't think that we lost the confidence of the chiefs. I think there was a problem identified, and we did in fact identify it and we rectified the situation," he said.
The I-Team spoke to Shelton Police Chief Joel Hurliman.
He said the recruit only missed a few hours at the academy and graduated with his class. Hurliman said he's glad the range was repaired and still has confidence in the academy leadership.
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