City clarifies noise ordinance

Published 8:33 pm Thursday, January 7, 2010

If you have ever felt the need to just crank up your radio as loud as you can and drive through downtown, singing along with your favorite artist, keep in mind you may find yourself having to explain yourself to Suffolk police officer.

In a unanimous vote Monday, the Suffolk City Council adopted a number of key changes to the city’s “vague” noise ordinance.

During his presentation to the council, Suffolk Chief of Police Thomas Bennett said proposed improvements to the city’s existing ordinance were needed to better clarify the law and strengthen the city’s position when a citation was needed.

“Our current ordinance relies on the use of a ‘reasonable person of normal sensibilities’ to determine whether someone is in violation of our noise ordinance,” Bennett said. “The changes we’ve outlined will make it much clearer.”

According to the presentation, the changes “allows for enforcement based upon the sound being plainly audible to a person using unaided hearing faculties.”

Bennett added a violation occurs now when “sound is heard across a real residential property boundary.”

“If a person in one house can clearly hear noise from the house next door, then that is a problem,” Bennett said. “This also applies to those living in apartments and hearing noise from the apartment next door.”

As for industrial, business or construction noise, Bennett said a noise violation would have occurred when those operations were taking place “at a time when people are normally asleep.”

He said noise from vehicles could be a violation if the noise from the “source” can be heard from 50 feet.

“With all of that said, we have had tremendous compliance from our residents,” Bennett said. “I went back and checked. Over the past seven years, we have had 8,400 complaint calls for noise and have issued just 108 summonses.”

Bennett said his officers have said that when arriving at a noise complaint location, they ask that the noise be turned down and normally have issued summonses only when they are called back for the same problem or if the resident is argumentative.

“To issue summonses in right at 1 percent of the complaints speaks volumes for the compliance we’ve received,” Bennett said.