Disturbing the peace

This is in response to the letter from J. Daley regarding the city’s noise ordinance [“Making a Joyful Noise,” Feb. 6]. I’m a co-author of that ordinance, written in 2000-2001 by a team of citizens, noise-abatement professionals, police and a city attorney. For a year, I also chaired the quasi-judicial board that oversees citations and appeals, so I know something about how the ordinance was intended to work and has played out in reality.

Daley essentially says he just wants to have fun. The problem comes when there are others nearby who want to sleep, read quietly or otherwise go about their affairs without being disturbed by someone else—even those who are just having fun. So creating a noise ordinance that works fairly was our goal. Daley may not agree, but our team felt that one person’s right to make joyful noises stops at another person’s nose, or perhaps their bedroom window.

Our team did some research and learned that when other cities have required the use of decibel meters, their noise enforcement runs into difficulty. For just one example: Where you stand in measuring sound with the meter has a big impact on the result—so measurement becomes subjective anyway. With encouragement from the city attorney, we developed an ordinance that requires the subjective assessment of two individuals: Both listeners have to indicate that this noise would disturb a person of reasonable sensitivity (thus hopefully ruling out the unreasonable sensitivities). The two individuals can be a complainant (who calls the police) and the police officer, who must observe the disturbance in person and can then issue a citation. Or it can be two citizens who submit a report to the Noise [Ordinance Appeals] Board, which can issue a citation (or more than one). Everyone on the team felt this was the most effective way to manage noise disturbances and be fair to everyone.

Are there still problems? Yes. One of the biggest is in the treatment of the disturbance by the officer who responds to a complaint. If he or she doesn’t think the noise would disturb a reasonable person, there will be no citation issued. If the officer threatens to do more—e.g. to search people at your party, maybe for cause, maybe not—well, that’s a separate issue regarding police conduct. But I think we have a pretty good ordinance. The way it is enforced is the key to whether it works or fails.

I’d encourage anyone who is interested to correspond with the Noise Ordinance [Appeals] Board if you have specific complaints or recommendations regarding noise management in the city. The whole endeavor will be improved if thoughtful people participate.

— Susan Andrew
Asheville

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11 thoughts on “Disturbing the peace

  1. travelah

    Ms Andrew, the reality of your ordinance is that when a neighbor makes a complaint, the officer is going to react based on the appearance, attitude and his own social biases. You crafted an ordinace based on subjective criteria rather than a fair objective measure. The “subjectiveness” of decibel measures is easily resolved by measuring at the street or sidewalk. Quite frankly your defense is as poor as the ordinance you co-authored.

  2. Susan Andrew

    Naturally the officer will react according to their own experience. So the main issue here is officer conduct. If the subjectiveness of using decibel measures were easily resolved, we would be using them–but no one who has used them feels that this is so. In addition, it was clear that the city would not commit to buying enough meters to have all police cruisers equipped with them, nor train all officers in their use. We wanted any officer to be able to issue citations, without the obviously subjective meters. But the bottom line is, if you have a better idea for how to manage noise, you should bring it to the people who can use it. Otherwise, you’re just taking pot shots–the coward’s mode of operation. Weak. Limp. Useless. Like your attack.

  3. quotequeen

    The only thing that sustains one through life is the consciousness of the immense inferiority of everybody else, and this is a feeling that I have always cultivated.
    Oscar Wilde, “The Remarkable Rocket”

  4. travelah

    Susan, your eyeballs must be itching with all that crap crowding the ceiling. (THAT is an ad hom for those who are looking for an example and it wasn’t a pot shot) I just provided you with the solution for a proper noise ordinance. If a police officer in Asheville can learn how to taz a citizen walking to take care of a neighbors pet, they can learn how to hold a decibel meter on a sidewalk or the side of the road. Secondly, if the city of Asheville was not willing to make the minimum investment needed to make objective determinations of it’s legal statutes, your “study group or whatever you wish to call it had no business crafting what is clearly a subjective ordinance that by it’s nature cannot be enforced equitably. Lastly, decibel meters are not subjective. They measure decibels, the significance of which should have been readily apparent to the bevy of “experts” you claim to have gathered.

  5. Susan Andrew

    Too bad the subjective nature of decibel meters is not evident to you. It’s pretty clear to me, and others who work with them. But refer to the last line of my commentary. The whole endeavor will be improved when thoughtful people participate. So does that leave you in or out? So far, it appears all you’ve done is blog about it here in this thread. That ain’t much.

  6. travelah

    Susan, what is your experience working with decibel meters? Any at all? It is a technical measurement of sound waves. How much more objective can you get short of setting up a sound lab outside one’s doorstep? You wrote a letter to a public forum and the “public” is replying. If the MountainX is regarded as a less than sufficient vehicle for airing this matter, what are you doing here?? Quite to the contrary, this forum is an excellent media for discussing issues such as this. It serves well for demonstrating the empty headedness of “quasi-public politicians” who fail to recognize the incompetence of their statutory accomplishments.

  7. Richarad

    Both decibel meters and officer/complaintant methods are subjective to a degree. A meter can be placed so as to give a different reading from that experienced by a listener, and officers may well choose to ignore complaints or be harsh in enforcement depending on personal factors. Perhaps some blending of the two might work better. The level of a noise is not always the best measure of how annoying it is, characteristics such as content, time of day, frequency, and apparent disreguard for the rights of others to not be subjected to excessive noise just so that some others can entertain themselves, are all a part of what constitutes a noise that disturbs a reasonable person.
    The biggest problem I have had with the current ordinance is the requirement for a victim of frequently recuring problems, like the noise from a poorly managed restaurant/music club, to be forced to seek redress by having to attend noise ordinance hearings. If an officer hears the same level of disturbance and agrees that it is excessive, that should be enough to fine the source of the noise, or the business which is attracting patrons who are creating a disturbance. Not all officers will agree to ticketing, because they will then have to waste their time in a hearing fighting an appeal of this issue which to some is very minor, but especially for those fighting frequent levels of inconsiderate noise can be very frustrating.
    It would all be greatly simplified if basic good manners and consideration were followed.

  8. Nam Vet

    Travelah, lay off Susan Andrews. She has made her point, quite well I would say. Your usual politeness here has flown out the window. Save your salvos for posters like “Eli”. He is obviously a yankee transplant troll.

  9. Eli Cohen

    Travalah, there is no fair objective measure for this sort of thing. Once again you are arguing for the sake of arguing and this one is particularly illogical. It’s a judgement call by the person complaining and the responding officer. If it goes further than that, then the courts will decide.

  10. Susan Andrew

    Yep–that’s it in a nutshell, Eli. But anyone who thinks it should be different is invited–nay, challenged–to get themselves off their butts and into the public process up there at City Hall. “Airing” your personal opinions on the MountainX blog just doesn’t amount to much of anything. DO something. Something more than just TYPING.

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