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