Number of area noise calls rising with good weather

Monday, May 5, 2003

As the weather gets warmer, Cape Girardeau gets louder.

That's the consensus among police and residents who point out that the number of noise violations is on the rise with the temperatures.

The problem is being taken so seriously by police that chief Steve Strong recently addressed the city council about his concerns, telling them 27 tickets were issued for noise violations in the previous three weeks.

City prosecutor Reagan Holliday reviews every noise citation issued in Cape Girardeau.

"It definitely increases in the summer," she said. "The noise ordinance is pretty broad. It covers everything from huge, knockdown parties to yelling in the street. It's not easy to prove if the person making the noise leaves."

For the first offense, an officer might only issue a warning and a written notice of the violation. If a second offense occurs, the device causing the excessive noise can be seized as evidence. Fines are usually more than $50, but can be more or less depending on the situation, Holliday said.

"Every case is very different and is prosecuted on its own facts," she said.

Police say most noise problems occur late at night after local bars close at 1:30 a.m. and when officers are busy responding to other incidents. Each part of town tends to have its own kind of noise problem. Loud parties stick to the Southeast Missouri State University campus area. Street gatherings take place frequently in south-side neighborhoods. And loud cars rove the major streets. Since January 2002, 156 citations have been issued for peace disturbances.

In Jackson, the noise problem is also seasonal and tends to occur most often in a particular area of town, said police chief James Humphreys.

"Come toward the spring and summer, most of the problem is in our park with loud music and vehicles," he said. "Though, we do have a loud party at a house every now and then that people complain about."

Humphreys has noticed such noise violations tend to be committed by young adults.

"Definitely the majority of those we deal with are in their late teens and early 20s," he said.

Noise reports

As the Cape Girardeau police's community service officer, patrolman Aaron Brown is the person residents are directed to when they visit the station to make a formal complaint about a noisy offender.

"A lot of times, they're pretty upset, and I can't blame them," he said.

Loud cars make up about 70 percent of the noise violations ticketed in the city, Brown said. The offenses range from booming stereos to engine and exhaust noises.

"People might think it would be more toward the parties, but that's more of a weekend thing whereas the loud cars are an everyday occurrence," he said.

Stereo manufacturers aren't limited by law in how loud they can make car audio systems, leaving the level of sound up to tastes of the customer, said Dave Creech, manager of Audio 1 in Cape Girardeau.

Creech would prefer police concentrate efforts on tackling theft issues rather than ticketing drivers with loud stereos.

First a warningNearly every weekend, police respond to complaints of loud parties near the Southeast campus. Typically, party hosts are first given a warning. But if another complaint is received, they will get a ticket, Brown said. During warmer months, it's not uncommon for police to respond to noise complaints at apartment complexes like Cape Place Apartments on North Sprigg and Bertling up to four times a week.

"With apartments, a lot of times the people complaining don't really want to get anyone in trouble," Brown said. "And they don't want to fill out a written complaint. They just want everyone to leave. But if we come up on it and can hear the noise, we can issue a ticket without a complaint."

In March, police used a pepper spray fogger at Cape Place to disperse a crowd of 250 people who refused to leave after being ordered to do so by police.

After the street lights kick on, Cape Girardeau's south-side neighborhoods sometimes become open-air social halls for residents whose gatherings block traffic and create noisy disturbances, police say. Officers are trying to address this by ticketing offenders who then face stiff fines.

But the process is selective.

On Wednesday night, officer Mike Wilson patrolled the neighborhood in his cruiser.

"See that lady over there," he said, pointing to a middle-aged woman walking down the middle of Morgan Oak. "I'm not going to write her a $100 ticket for not using the sidewalk because she's not hurting anybody. That's somebody's mother or grandmother just walking to Don's 24, and as soon as I wrote her a ticket we'd have a fight on our hands."

Instead, Wilson concentrates on known criminals walking the streets -- drug dealers, drug users and thieves that he calls out by name as he drives past and waves. After a year of night shifts, Wilson recognizes them from a distance simply by the way they walk.

He uses the city's noise ordinance to his advantage when he needs to detain drug or theft suspects who are riding in loud cars.

"The ordinance gives us the ability to remove a problem person when needed," he said.

James Coley, co-owner of the Rose Bed Inn bed and breakfast on South Sprigg, says this is exactly how the noise ordinance should be used to battle other serious crimes.

"If the police would use that to get into a vehicle, they could use a probable cause law to find drugs, guns -- all kinds of stuff," he said. "They know where the crack houses and other drug houses are, but sometimes they have trouble getting a bust on them that will stick. But they can get them while they're using their loud stereos."

Business viewColey, who lives at the inn, has addressed the city council on the noise issue before.

"We've recently had people from out of state here and they commented on the noise," he said. "This is hurting tourism, not just us. It hurts the city."

He isn't giving up the fight any time soon.

"We just turned in a whole list of violations to the cops two nights ago," he said. "We gave them plate numbers, descriptions of vehicles and drivers and times and dates. It was a page and a half."

The reverberating car stereos don't penetrate the guest rooms, but it's still difficult to enjoy sitting outside from 4 to 7 p.m. with all the noise, Coley said.

Knowing the problem will only get worse as the days get warmer, Coley plans to put up a privacy fence to act as a noise barrier as well as a visual screen.

"The weather is warming up and more and more people will be out, driving with windows down," he said. "And whatever they're playing on their car stereo will be forced upon everyone around them."

mwells@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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