Bill's aim is keeping peace after bars close

Broad Annapolis proposal would also target noise from parties, car alarms

January 10, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Yelling, shouting, hooting and making "rude remarks" on the streets of Annapolis could soon earn violators a misdemeanor conviction, 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Fed up with rowdy young people who have turned the heart of their Colonial city into party central on weekends, Annapolitans have lobbied officials for years to quell the drunken revelry that too frequently wakes them when the bars close at 2 a.m.

Tomorrow, Mayor Dean L. Johnson and Ward 1 Democratic Alderman Louise Hammond will oblige by introducing the first bill of 1999 -- the "Public Peace, Morals and Welfare" bill.

"The bars and restaurants are able to, with cheap beer and other enticements, bring thousands and thousands of revelers who have no interest in the historic buildings or the importance of the city, no interest in the place other than it's sort of quaint and a good place to drink," said James Vance, who lives blocks from Main Street and has been awakened on many a weekend.

"They party with little or no regard for those of us who live here and that's inappropriate -- they are guests in our town," he said. "Hooray for Louise Hammond."

The bill would tighten an old law that defines disturbances to peace as "whistling or making rude remarks to passers-by" and playing radio, tape or record-players or any similar electronic device loud enough to be heard 50 feet away.

With suggestions from city police, Johnson and Hammond added to the bill specifics such as "yelling, shouting, hooting, making rude remarks, whistling or singing on or near the public streets, so as to unreasonably disturb public peace."

"This is an attempt to give police officers some more tools and better direction in enforcing the law, especially in the downtown area," Johnson said.

The bill would also bar certain loud noises -- loud partygoers, car horns honking when there is no danger and constantly blaring car security alarms.

"We have problems with the bars that have bands playing in their front windows and disturb the neighborhood," Hammond said. "We have problems with some houses that are party houses, where they have parties going most weekends late into the night with windows open and music blaring.

"We're just looking at a way that we can cover all bases."

Jacob Hammer, who is a resident of Ward 1, said he was glad Hammond had included car security alarms in her bill.

Hammer, an industrial physics consultant who works at home, said he could not concentrate one day last September when his neighbor's car alarm went off for six hours, and police said they could not do anything about it.

"It was a particularly obnoxious alarm; it sounded like an ambulance and then a fire engine, and the police said they had no power to break into the car to turn it off," he said.

While the existing law prohibits alarms from being activated for more than 15 minutes, it does not specify what police can do in such situations.

The new bill states that police may have such noisy vehicles towed.

Tightening the law and making it clear what police officers can do helps residents, Johnson said.

"Apparently the courts have ruled that unless there's a complaint made, a police officer can't arrest because a police officer's peace can't be disturbed," said the mayor. "However, the way we described it now with specific violations, they can say, `OK, you violated this particular part of the code' so they don't have to wait for a resident to call and complain."

Although the definition of unreasonable disturbances to peace will be left up to police officers, Johnson said he had no worries about how the law was going to be enforced.

"Yelling at 2 o'clock in the afternoon and at 2 o'clock in the morning are different," Johnson said. "That's the sort of distinction we're making."

Pub Date: 1/10/99

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