Anne Arundel County police plan to use a new sound-monitoring device to respond to complaints about and enforce laws concerning excessive noise.
County Executive John R. Leopold is taking advantage of legislation that he sponsored last year as a state delegate requiring the Maryland Department of the Environment to provide sound meters to local jurisdictions. The state has approved a request by Anne Arundel for a sound-measuring device, which will enable police to determine whether a person or business is violating noise standards.
Anne Arundel is the fourth county to apply for the equipment. The others are Garrett, St. Mary's and Howard.
"This equipment will allow an officer to basically document the violation and use it for court," said Lt. David Waltemeyer, a spokesman for the Anne Arundel County Police Department.
Leopold said yesterday that as the county becomes "more urbanized, noise is becoming a vexing problem." He added that high noise levels affect people's health and can be an indicator of crime.
"Nuisance crimes lead to more serious crime," Leopold said. "When neighborhoods are run-down and there's loud noise, those kind of nuisance crimes are breeding grounds for more serious crimes. Quiet neighborhoods are bulwarks against more serious crimes."
Anne Arundel law prohibits the operating of a radio, machine, tool or similar device that generates an unreasonable sound that can be heard 50 feet away within a residential district. County officials consider the rules vague, and Leopold said he is considering whether to forward a bill to the County Council that would follow state rules. A violation of the county's noise rules carries a penalty of up to 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.
Maryland law restricts sound in residential neighborhoods to 65 decibels during the day and 55 decibels at night. The elimination of the sole state sound inspector in 2005 for budgetary reasons has put the onus on local jurisdictions to revise and enforce their own noise-pollution laws. Carroll and Frederick counties are among those to do so since 2005.
George Harman, program manager for environmental assessments and standards at state Department of the Environment, said the agency is recommending that counties that are considering adopting new noise regulations should consider purchasing sound machines.
Sound meters range in cost between $1,800 and $5,000. Harman said models that cost about $2,000 are adequate for about 95 percent to 98 percent of noise complaints received.
Leopold said he would move to buy sound meters if he introduces the county legislation. His state-sponsored law that gave Maryland's 23 counties and Baltimore City access to the MDE meters expires in 2009.
A county task force recommended extending the hours for the more restrictive noise standards, now 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., to 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. Leopold said he supports that move. Anne Arundel officials will receive a meter within 30 days.
County officials said they will use the sound meter to enforce state noise standards, but they emphasized that they will not actively police neighborhoods for violations but will only respond to complaints.
"These meters will allow law enforcement officials to record the noise, download and store it and eventually transfer it to computers to use as evidence if the case goes to court," Leopold said in a statement last week.