Archive for Tuesday, April 18, 2006

KU group decries noise ordinance as vague

April 18, 2006


Kansas University civil libertarians are preparing to make some noise about the city's noise ordinance, as some violators face fines up to $300 or even light jail time.

Members of the KU chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union are planning to march on City Hall tonight to protest the city's noise ordinance, which they think gives police officers too much discretion in determining whether parties or other gatherings are too loud.

"With our current ordinance, what is not criminal one night might be criminal the next night," said Justin La Mort, president of the KU ACLU chapter. "That's not how good law should be written."

Instead, La Mort and other KU student organizations are urging the city to adopt a new noise ordinance that would require police officers to use a decibel meter to determine whether a party or other activity is generating noise above a certain measurable level.

City commissioners will consider the issue at their 6:35 p.m. meeting. They'll hear from the city's legal staff that the idea is a bad one.

"The enforcement-related issues are the predominant issues we have with it," said Scott Miller, a city attorney.

Miller said Kansas courts haven't yet set a clear precedent that readings from a sound meter are valid evidence to convict someone of a crime. That means a new ordinance could cause the city to have to present expert testimony about sound meters at noise ordinance trials, if a defendant challenged the validity of a reading.

Several concerns

But a larger issue may be that it takes only a second for partygoers to hit the off switch on a stereo. Miller said for police officers to get a reading, they would have to arrive at a party scene undetected.

Kathanna Culp, center, and Alisha Ashley, both Kansas University seniors, work on signs for a planned march tonight by members of KU's ACLU chapter to city hall. The group has concerns about the city's noise ordinance.

Kathanna Culp, center, and Alisha Ashley, both Kansas University seniors, work on signs for a planned march tonight by members of KU's ACLU chapter to city hall. The group has concerns about the city's noise ordinance.

"When everyone sees the police, they are going to scatter," Miller said. "Officers may have heard the noise but didn't have the meter set up. In that case, they couldn't write a ticket."

Cost also is expected to be a concern. Miller estimated devices capable of satisfying a court would cost $500 to $1,000 a piece. The city has 23 patrol cars.

But La Mort said the city's legal staff was making the issue too difficult. He said it was not uncommon for communities, especially college communities, to use the decibel meters.

In Tuscaloosa, Ala. - a city where La Mort has studied the use of the devices - a city attorney there said Monday that the decibel meter system works well.

"We feel like it is really about the only effective noise ordinance you can have," said James Woodson, an associate city attorney in the 85,000-person city that is home to the University of Alabama. "We saw that the noise ordinances that were being successfully challenged in court were the ones that didn't use a decibel meter."

La Mort thinks the city's current ordinance is susceptible to a legal challenge because it is too vague. The Lawrence law makes it a violation to make "any excessive, unreasonable or unusually loud noise which disturbs, injures, endangers the repose, health, peace or safety of other people of ordinary sensitivity within the vicinity of the noise."

Miller, though, said that language was specific enough to withstand a court challenge. He said a state court in 2003 upheld Wichita's noise ordinance, which contains virtually identical wording.

Miller said if the city wanted to make a change, he would recommend it rewrite the ordinance to make it illegal to produce noise "plainly audible" to the human ear from a certain distance. La Mort said that would be better than the current law, but said he preferred the specificity that could be provided by a noise meter.

More violations

The noise ordinance has become a front-burner issue for the KU ACLU after the city made a policy change - pushed for by neighborhood groups - that allows police officers to write a ticket without requiring the complaining neighbor to file a police report.

City prosecutors confirmed that the number of noise ordinance violations they are prosecuting had increased from three or four violations per week to about 10 to 15 per week.

Prosecutors also confirmed the Municipal Court judge had recently handed down some significant sentences. A two-time noise ordinance offender was sentenced to two days in jail and given a $200 fine. Some first-time offenders have received fines of as much as $300.

"Those kind of penalties make me fearful, considering how vague this law is written," La Mort said. "I know there are neighbors who make too much noise and deserve to be punished. But we need to make sure we're punishing the right people. With this law, I don't think we know that we are."


Richard Heckler 12 years, 1 month ago

Hey students when you choose to move in a family style neighborhood life is different. People have young children,some do not like loud music,some like to open windows and some have been around long there neighborhood was reduced to rental properties.

Cut the loud music or band practice at 9PM. Go on with your party and have a good time but you don't own the neighborhood. Not everyone on the block wants to hear your music or smell the respectful of your neighbors. Urinating in neighbors yards will likely never be acceptable.

geekin_topekan 12 years, 1 month ago

"With our current ordinance, what is not criminal one night might be criminal the next night," said Justin La Mort, president of the KU ACLU chapter. "That's not how good law should be written."

Agreed!!How about them bloomin' winos downtown?One night the cops dump their jug and the next night they give them friendly wave.

gccs14r 12 years, 1 month ago

If they're going to buy decibel meters, maybe they can also use them to cite vehicles with obnoxious modified exhaust systems.

blessed3x 12 years, 1 month ago

So who's going to pay to equip every officer with a noise meter? Maybe we could have a tax on ACLU members. Wait a minute, you can't tax stupidity otherwise Boog and his gang would have been bankrupt years ago.

bucephalus 12 years, 1 month ago

I know it's traditional to begin screaming and foaming at the mouth whenever the ACLU is mentioned (though wouldn't that violate the noise ordinance?), but this actually seems sensible. Imagine if speeding tickets worked the same way, and instead of having a posted speed limit and measuring devices the law just said an officer could give a ticket to anyone he thought was going fast -- everybody has a different definition of "fast", and no two officers would enforce it the same way. And since our country is built on the notion that the laws apply the same way to everyone, that wouldn't fly.

This is the same thing; the noise ordinance is pretty vague, and I seriously doubt that it actually gets uniformly applied, so they're asking for the law to specify what's meant by "too loud" and for officers to be given the ability to test it.

As for the cost, well, we already put radar guns in their cars. Why not noise meters? Given the number of people willing to raise their blood pressure by going on and on in LJW comment threads about "those damn kids and their parties", I'd imagine the community would be behind this.

quigley 12 years, 1 month ago

March on city hall? For this? This isnt serious is it? Don't these kids have some class to study for?

quigley 12 years, 1 month ago

Hey auricular, im in no way a has been. Im recently graduated from college. I just know what issues are worth marching about. And its not the has beens that are ruining this town, its the liberal crybabies like yourself.

roadrunner 12 years, 1 month ago

I don't think I should have to eagerly await the reading on the decibel meter to find out if the party next door that has been keeping me awake all night with sounds of vomiting party goers is high enough to be shut down. The cops don't just pull up to a noisy party and decide to shut it down, they do it because someone complained about it. And more often than not, the party host is given a warning that says if they get called back, THEN they'll be issued a citation. What more do these people want? You can't have a raging kegger where ever and when ever you want. Decibel meters are joke and sound like more money out of my pocket that really doesn't need to be spent!!

RonBurgandy 12 years, 1 month ago

I could sit here and play devil's advocate too...

quigley 12 years, 1 month ago of them!......AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

gphawk89 12 years, 1 month ago

What about things like lawn mowers, chain saws, mulchers, leaf blowers, and the like? Those seem to me to fit into the category of causing "noise that disturbs the peace of other people". And I'd bet some of them would cause a higher dB reading on the sound meters than a loud indoor party. Need to be very careful about the wording of the law here...

flux 12 years, 1 month ago

This is more then just a simple keg party issue. Trust me, people love to complaine just for the sake of doing so. If you think your neihbor is to loud, politely ask them to turn it down or come up with a compromise. Don't just hide behind the blinds being a tattletale, have some guts.

james bush 12 years, 1 month ago

The ACLU should be made the enforcer. Maybe then they will be doing something of value for society.

Layne Moore 12 years, 1 month ago

I'm 38 years old and in a band. We rehearse in my garage a couple of times a week (or whenever the guitarists can shag their asses over here). It's so funny to read this crap and automatically assume this is only about the old people getting to stick it to the young people. As a few others have pointed out, there are other types of noise "inconviences" here other than loud music or loud parties. What about when old Hank Hill decides to mow his yard at 6:30am on a Saturday when I'm trying to sleep? Is that a violation of the noise ordinance? Or how about when I'm trying to work from my home office and can't concentrate due to all the loud neighborhood children screaming at the top of their lungs in the cul-du-sac? Violation?

I only wish another band would practice in my neighborhood. I'd pull out a lawn chair, sit in my front yard and enjoy the entertainment. Unless it's country. Then I'd probably have to call the cops.

Just kidding.

What the hell is wrong with this place? There's so much bickering and BS to complain about. You find something wrong with what I do and I'll sure as hell find something wrong with what you do. That's how it works, right?

Jerry Stubbs 12 years, 1 month ago

How many students have access to a decibel meter ?

The purpose of the ordinance is to ensure a basic right, the right of quiet enjoyment.

Party hosters should gain entrance to another nearby residence to see if their noise is intrusive.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 12 years, 1 month ago

Fortunately I live in a neighborhood where we are all considerate of each other, but if I had a noisy neighbor who kept me up, I would get up at 7:00 AM the morning after their party and rev up my chain saw and fire up the lawnmower and put on some loud music. If I don't have a right to sleep, then neither do they.

Jamesaust 12 years, 1 month ago

The core conceit of this ACLU complaint seems to be that if something is capable of precise measurement than anything short of that is "vague." That is not what the law requires. Miller is quite right that courts have long accepted a measuring standard of what a reasonable person would find objectionable. (No National Security Agency spyware is necessary.)

The ACLU also faces a conundrum - the law requires as a means of AVOIDING vagueness that an average person be capable of determining whether they are in violation of the law. How exactly, short of buying and learning to operate a 'noisemeter,' would a typical person acquaint themselves with their decibel emissions? Congrats ACLU! You just proposed an unconstitutional law (that's okay, everyone does it).

Miller does conceed the one revision that would make the city ordinance better - a proximity standard. How about plainly audible to a person of average hearing at 40 feet or across a property line?

As to other complaints listed - the city ordinance has a list of exceptions, although complainants are free to pester the city to refine these as they wish (no lawnmowing before 8 a.m.).

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 12 years, 1 month ago

paperplate, Have you talked to your neighbor about the mowing? Have you asked the kids to go somewhere else to play? There was a letter to the editor a few days ago from a neighbor who has excellent student neighbors. They were going to have a party, so they went to the neighbors and gave them several cell phone numbers for calling if the noise got out of hand. They even invited the neighbor to come to the party if they want. This is being a good neighbor. Some people don't even know who their neighbors are. If you get to know your neighbors and treat them with respect, instead of the arrogance that some (not all) young people display, then there won't be a problem. Not all old people are grumpy, and not all young people are disrespectful, but the bad ones from both sides ruin it for all of us.

Kelly Powell 12 years, 1 month ago

If you are physically feeling the music in your chest and your windows are vibrating....It's too damn loud. As for the early morning lawn worshipers....i just quit a graveyard shift job, and yes all the noise of the daylight world kept me from getting sound sleep....But, things have to be done....lawns need mowing, construction projects need doing.......bichin keggers are not a nessecity of life.....but since the noise ordinance allows noise during the day....start your party at 10 a.m and close it at 9pm.....plenty of time to het hammered and laid.

christie 12 years, 1 month ago

The problem is kids move into neighborhoods where people have to work for a living, and throw these parties and they keep us up till all hours of the night. The cops do NOTHING, and the kids threaten or harass if you ask them to tone it down.

I don't care WHAT these kids do, but I don't want to hear it, or have to pick up after it. In my case, I've been living in my home for 15 years, these kids come and go and act as if they OWN the 'hood and can do whatever they want.

PLEASE write an ordinance that is within the law and PLEASE enforce it. And PLEASE, could the cops in this town show up and DO SOMETHING when tax paying property owners like myself call !!!!!!!

Layne Moore 12 years, 1 month ago

dorothyhr: on occasion I ask the kids to keep the noise down. I prefer my own children to play nearby when they're out because of their ages. As far as lawnmowing, no I have not asked them to mow at another time. But, I have no intention of calling the police either. If it becomes something I can't tolerate on a regular basis, I might resort to sending over a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies with a kind note -- that's how I operate.

We had a complaint from a neighbor, of which we took seriously. The last thing we want to do is alienate the neighborhood. Our solution was to switch everyone to headphones when we practice. Since the bass player's low thud is now completely through headphones, the only noise we have is the drumset (which isn't too bad) and the guitars, which are turned lower. We took the complaint and made a working solution so that it wouldn't be a problem. We're also making an effort to better sound proof the garage to reduce noise even more. And we've always stopped playing by 8:30 or 9pm at the latest. Many times practice is between about 6:30 and 8:30pm, which has worked out well for us and our neighbors.

I think part of this problem is that not everyone approaches a complaint like we do. I think if you can treat others with respect, you will get respect in return. People who throw big parties in cramped neighborhoods, creating excessive noise with people shouting or loud music at late hours KNOW THEY ARE BEING A__HOLES. But I also think we should approach them first to see if they're willing to be considerate before involving law enforcement. I would rather our police spend their time patrolling more important criminal activity.

For instance, I would never dream of throwing a huge party in the house I have now. It's not an appropriate place for it. We've had places in the country where a big party wouldn't bother anyone.

I'm wondering if we can help foster a city where we can respect each other. It's not just about homeowners, nor is it just about musicians/partygoers/lawnmowers. It's about compromise and common sense.

Kelly Powell 12 years, 1 month ago

I'll tell you what I bet 100dollars I could throw a big party during the day and not get a noise throw one that starts at 10pm and we will see who gets the cops called on them.

roosterboy82 12 years, 1 month ago

What happened to respect thy neighbor!!!?? Be considerate of how much noise you are making especially if it is loud music, screaming people, etc at midnight on any day during the week!

I just think it all goes back to the lack of respect that everyone has for each other these days. If we respected each other we would think at 11pm when we are having a party that "oh jane doe has to be to work at 7am tomorrow i'm sure she needs her sleep maybe we shouldn't be so loud" but instead its all about how we harass the people who are making the noise!!

Calliope877 12 years, 1 month ago


I agree. A few years ago I had some rowdy neighbors who lived right below me. I don't think these two girls ever slept. They would stand on their balcony and talk at the top of their lungs, play their music full blast, and I think they enjoyed moving their furniture around at 2:00 in the morning. I had to call the police on them several times, who were no help, until finally the landlord kicked them out for good.

galfromku 12 years, 1 month ago

I am sorry... I missed this somewhere.... What is the exact wording of the ordinance as it stands?

Kontum1972 12 years, 1 month ago

Let's see last week it was monitoring electrical bills for excessive consumption of power....Result: hemp growers in alvamar now Db meters for seems like some people have just too much extra time on the hands....radar guns, tasers, breathlizers, pooper scoopers, broom handles...etc...where does it really end? So what do you really want?

Why dont we just ask the university to move out of lawrence then mb we can get some piece and quiet!

or mb a bigger jail......mb we can bust the whole football stadium during ball season....i find that pretty annoying when home games are on,,,thats pretty damn loud...mb crying babies in church or grocery stores...!




Fatty_McButterpants 12 years, 1 month ago

Just a small point of fact...

I don't recall the KU ACLU getting riled up about this new version of the noise ordinance when it first was put into effect. In fact, I recall reading an article in the LJ-World about how the President of the KU ACLU had received a citation for violating the noise ordinance and, because of that, he would make it a priority for his club.

Is he really against the noise ordinance or just trying to get out of paying the possible fine?

Reading what some of the sentences have been, I do have to agree that they seem to be blowing this out of proportion. Isn't the fine for marijuana now less than the fine for a noise ordinance? I also think that there should be set hours for the noise ordinance to be in effect - say 9pm to 7am. As it is now, anyone can complain at any hour of the day because they feel somebody is being too loud.

jayhawks71 12 years, 1 month ago

OK those of you against the smoking ban. Time to step up again! No complaints should be coming from residents who don't like loud noise coming from someone else's property. Right??? The government, nor society have any right to tell someone that what they do on their property cannot be done, even if it completely annoys and ruins the quality of life around the noise maker.

I hope the anti-smoking ban people will unite and remain consistent in their view that NO ONE can tell a property owner (or renter, in this case... there is no difference) what he can do on his property.

The problem I have with this ordinance is that the complaintant is not a party to the action. If you make the call, you should be the complaintant, not a police officer.

Harry_Manback 12 years, 1 month ago

I am a student that is all for enforcing noise complaints. I like to have my fun, but not at the expense of others peace and quiet. Some of us students have to go to work in the mornings too, and part of the reason why I moved from my old place was because of how noisy it was. There are plenty of others who feel just like I do. I think the noise ordinance is fine as it is, if anything it's not enforced nearly enough.

Calliope877 12 years, 1 month ago

I don't care if anyone thinks I'm a moron for wanting my sleep.

I have several neighbors, and I'm not the type of tenant to call the police on people unless they are interfering with my life by keeping me awake all night! Playing music so loud that things are falling off my walls, loud obnoxious laughter and talking, and the sound of beer bottles shattering in a trash can kept out on the balcony will warrant several calls to the police.

I had to call the police during the situation I mentioned so that there was a record for the landlord to enable him to kick them out. In my situation, I WAS the complaintant because I had to complain and complain and complain to my landlord until he kicked the dumb b!@tches out!

I don't mind living near campus. It's actually kind of entertaining. I can't count how many times I've seen naked frat guys running down the street hollering, but they usually pass out afterwards, so it doesn't bother me enough to call the police. But when I can't get my sleep, I get cranky.

Calliope877 12 years, 1 month ago

Harry_Manback ,

I know exactly what you mean. I'm a student too and I have a full time job I have to go to in the morning, so I don't have a problem with the noise ordinance.

I think only the pseudo-conspiracy theorists, people who make a lot of noise, or people who've never experienced a really obnoxious neighbor have a problem with the noise ordinance.

Harry_Manback 12 years, 1 month ago


I agree. This problem doesn't just affect older residents, but other students as well. I really don't think the majority of the student population feels the way this group does.

These students are so whiney. I grew up in Lenexa. You want to see a house party get busted up real quick for no reason? I tell them to go there for one night and party then maybe they'll realize how lax the cops here really are about parties.

I can't wait till these students have to wake up at 7:30 everyday and work real jobs. Maybe then they'll realize how selfish they were being, to both the permanent residents of Lawrence and other students. When I have parties I tell my neighbors. It's as simple as that.

compmd 12 years, 1 month ago

Decibel meters? Bad idea. I can think of several ways in which a reading's validity could be challenged. What was the temperature and air pressure at the time of the reading? What was the distance between the source of the noise and the meter? When was the meter last calibrated? Were there other sources of sound nearby?

Who here knows fluid dynamics and wave properties? Probably not these students. If they get their decibel meters, it could seriously backfire on them.

Nathan Anderson 12 years, 1 month ago

Only the dimwitted could have a problem understanding "ordinary sensitivity". Considering all of the effort these kids have spent on the issue, I don't think intelligence is the problem. I guess social maturity has no meaning for these folks.

If you think others might think it's too loud, it probably is.

Plain talk and plain thinking are anathema to the JoCo/Chicago princes and princesses.

Calliope877 12 years, 1 month ago

compmd ,

Decibel meters? I don't need a d@mn "decibel meter" to know when a stereo is loud enough to knock $h!t off my walls or vibrate through my floor!

And as for backfiring goes, yeah, you're right....the noise totally backfired on them since the offenders got kicked out of the building.

Calliope877 12 years, 1 month ago


Absolutely! I like to party too, but I don't want to be so loud that it's disturbing the people who are living around me.

Like jhawk0097 said, "Only the dimwitted could have a problem understanding 'ordinary sensitivity'". It has nothing to do with government mind control, or limiting the civil rights of the people, it's solely about having the common sense, maturity, and possibly the right upbringing to understand that the world doesn't center around "Me, Myself, and I." There is a responsibilty to treat others, including your neighbors, the way you'd want to be treated.

Would these people really want to be kept awake at night by their idiotic neighbors when they have a job to go to, or a test to study for? Unless they are wasting mommy and daddy's money, which I think many of them are, they probably wouldn't tolerate such an interference in their lives.

gphawk89 12 years, 1 month ago

Flux said: "If you think your neighbor is too loud, politely ask them to turn it down or come up with a compromise. Don't just hide behind the blinds being a tattletale, have some guts." Yeah, right, flux. The last time I politely asked someone to quiet their party down, I did it three times over a three-hour period with no effect on the noise, then finally called the police (who did get them to quiet down), then found my car vandalized the next morning. Sometimes it's better to remain anonymous.

sarahandpad 12 years, 1 month ago

This is insane -- a decibal meter? Try having a little courtesy for your neighbors and giving a crap about others.

armyguy 12 years, 1 month ago

I have some interesteing ideas for those with loud folks next door. First most of them are students. Try being nice and asking them to turn down the noise, that works most of the time.

If that doesn't work track down their parents and blast your car radio, and honk your horn in front of there house at midnight. You might have to explain to the police what you are doing there, however I think they would laugh at it.

A friend of mine had a great idea that worked wonders. She had 2 young rock and roll loving guys living downstairs of her apartment, that loved to be loud late at night and early morning. Her fix was Disco and dance club starting at 7am.

horrific_changeling 12 years, 1 month ago

tomorrow's OTS question...Can you explain what a sarahandpad is?

deepthroat 12 years, 1 month ago

If you're having problems with college kids who're neighbors, try this...Take pictures of them drinking and send them to their EVERYTIME!

I did this a few years back...mailed the photos anonymously to the guy's folks...never had a noise problem from him again.

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