Keep it down

November 04, 2005

Baltimore doesn't need a new noise ordinance, despite citizen complaints about rowdy house parties and bars. It needs to enforce the law that already makes loud, obnoxious behavior a crime.

Councilwoman Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake may be well-intentioned, but her proposal to classify excessive noise as a public nuisance wouldn't ensure any greater enforcement. She is trying to make landlords more accountable for the noisy or illegal actions of their tenants. Under her bill, the police commissioner would be able to close down a house or business whose owner was twice convicted of violating noise levels in two years. But the bill would allow the offending property owner to post a bond to reopen his place. Now that doesn't sound very tough.

Stiffer penalties for violating 55-decibel levels (which isn't much louder than a conversation) won't silence ear-blasting music if citations aren't given and judges don't impose tough sentences. Consider this: The Health Department issues, on average, fewer than a dozen citations for noise violations a year, and the offender is just as likely to be a trash truck.

Community leaders know the loudmouths in their neighborhoods. They can identify the offending businesses and homes. Police commanders should work more closely with communities to identify suspect properties and devise special weekend patrols to crack down on them. The city liquor board also should step up its enforcement of disruptive bars.

When citizens and police work together, things get done. After citizens complained about a loud house party on East Lake Avenue last month, police arrived and eventually arrested 30 students. If the students had taken seriously the officer's initial demand to "keep the noise down," they might not be facing charges of disorderly conduct and underage drinking. Acting responsibly applies to the noisemakers as well as the noise enforcers.

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