Disturbing the peace: Loud music
Warm weather may be on the way out, but the sounds of summer are hanging around — Boom! Boom! Boom! — often accompanied by cussing.
In a city where murder and robberyare pervasive, noise ordinance violations may not seem like the most heinous of crimes. That’s no comfort to Detroit residents who put up with music so loud it rattles their windows and who get little relief from overworked police officers busy chasing more serious offenses.
“I can’t stand it,” said Walter Burton, 55, who lives near Plymouth and Evergreen on the northwest side. “They play that music until 3, 4 in the morning. And some of these rap lyrics are so filthy. I’ve got to listen to that mess all day and all night.”
Constant noise can be unhealthy, experts say. It causes stress levels to rise and can make listeners lash out at themselves or others.
Many say Detroit’s comeback is predicated on addressing quality-of-life issues such as failing schools and blight. And much attention was given recently to graffiti after three suburban girls were arrested on suspicion of spray-painting some buildings downtown.
But noise pollution — and the Police Department’s inability to respond quickly to complaints — remains a huge problem for residents such as Burton, who said he has called police several times about his neighbors blasting music all night, usually to no avail.
“I don’t know what else to do,” Burton said. “It disrupts everything. You close the windows, turn up the TV, but you can’t block it out — it’s too loud. And I’m scared to complain about it to some of these guys — you never know when one of them will shoot you because they think you disrespected them.”
Detroit Police Sgt. Michael Woody said officers do the best they can to respond to noise complaints, which are misdemeanor offenses that carry fines up to $500 and/or up to 90 days in jail.
“Unfortunately that’s just a byproduct of what we’re up against — a lot of times we can’t get to those runs as quickly as we’d like,” Woody said. “But we do respond when we can.”
Francine Adams unsuccessfully ran for Detroit City Council with the noise issue as one of her platforms. In her campaign literature, she proposed fining first offenders $1,000.
“If I call after 10, the police usually respond in my neighborhood,” said Adams, who lives in District 3 on the northeast side. “But this is a citywide problem.
“There’s a social club around the corner, and I can sit in my house during the day and feel like I’m at the party. There’s a liquor store nearby, and people sit in the lot, blasting their music. It’s so loud, you usually can’t even hear the lyrics; the trunk’s rattling from the bass.”
The City Council in 2004 unanimously passed an ordinance aimed at curbing music coming from cars, which penalizes motorists whose music is audible from more than 10 feet away. The first violation is $100; fines are $200 and $300 for second and third offenses.
Studies say constant exposure to loud music can cause emotional distress. The U.S. military has used it as a tool to break down prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a 2008 Associated Press report.
The music, at loud volumes for hours, caused some inmates to scream and bang their heads against walls, the report said, while others said they would have tried to commit suicide if they’d had the chance.
“Certain decibel levels can do substantial damage to the hearing, and there’s also an emotional impact,” said Jill Bollman, a professor in the Central Michigan University Department of Audiology. “Exposure to loud sounds over a period of time can cause a ringing in the ear, which has a huge emotional and psychological effect. It affects everybody differently, but it’s not a pleasant thing, that’s for sure.”
Police dispatchers used to put calls such as noise complaints into what was known in the department as “Can 04” runs — meaning they were ignored. Police Chief James Craig recently ordered a study of the past five years and found up to 75,000 citizen calls per year were put into that category.
“People were understandably angry because they’d call us and know we weren’t going to come,” Craig said. “But we no longer put any calls into Can 04, so people’s calls are no longer ignored. If you call, we will get there.”
Burton said police did respond to a recent noise complaint. “But they came the next morning,” he said. “I was glad they finally came, but by then it was too late; the neighbors had turned the music off and were probably asleep.”
Adams said noise violators’ lack of empathy bothers her.
“People used to have respect for their neighbors,” she said. “But somewhere in the ’80s, they lost it.”
Detroit’s noise ordinance
■It’s unlawful to for people to “disturb the public peace and quiet” by shouting, whistling, boisterous conduct or playing musical devices that amplify sound in public or private.
■It’s also unlawful to play musical devices that amplify sound in a motor vehicle that can be “plainly audible” more than 10 feet from the vehicle.
■Violations are misdemeanors and carry a fine of up to $500 and a maximum of 90 days in jail, or both.
■A first conviction carries at least a $100 fine, a second at least a $200 fine and any convictions after that a $300 fine and up to 90 days in jail.
Source: City of Detroit