Appeal of noise ordinance citation gets full hearing, standard denial by Bloomington public works board

At its regular meeting on Tuesday, Bloomington’s three-member board of public works heard and denied an appeal from a 21-year-old man who had been cited by a Bloomington police officer on Feb. 26 for a noise ordinance violation.

Tuesday’s appeal appears to have been a typical citation and appeals process, from several different angles.

Appeals of citations for noise ordinance violations aren’t that frequent compared to the number that are issued. Out of roughly 500 noise ordinance citations issued in the last five years, The Square Beacon found a dozen or so appeals. All of them were denied.

Director of public works Adam Wason told The Square Beacon that when he searched, he did not find any records of a successful appeal. His take on that: “In most all instances multiple visits or warnings are given before an officer issues a citation.”

On Tuesday, that was one of the points of complaint raised by the appellant—that he had not been given a warning or notified by his neighbors in the apartment building that his music, playing at 3 a.m., was too loud.

Neighbors don’t have to notify someone about excessive noise before calling the noise complaint number. As board of public works member Kyla Cox Deckard put it, “I wish we were in an environment where more people would talk to their neighbors, and have those conversations without having to involve the police.”

Deckard told the appellant, “And I wish that that had happened for you in this situation. But it is a city ordinance that we uphold that if people are experiencing excessive noise. [Calling in a complaint is] the path that they can take to remedy that.”

The 21-year-old appellant was age-wise typical for someone who issued a citation. Based on data in Bloomington’s B Clear portal, from 2016 through the end of 2020, 86 percent of the 485 citations for noise ordinance violations were issued to people who were 24 years old or younger.

As a man, he was also typical. About 88 percent of noise ordinance citations are given to men.

The breakdown by race shows a similar kind of disparity as the one that’s familiar from arrests. Citations given to Blacks make up about 13.5 percent of noise ordinance citations, compared to around 4 percent of Blacks in Bloomington’s population.

Noise ordinance citation numbers during 2020 were damped down by the COVID-19 pandemic. The yearly total of 11 citations for 2020 is less than 10 percent of the average for previous years.

For Tuesday’s case, it was the appellant’s second citation in about as many weeks. The first one came earlier in the month, on his 21st birthday, when he’d been given the standard $50 fine for a first offense. That was his own fault, he said, and he took full responsibility for the noise that he had made celebrating his birthday.

But a second offense inside of 12 months gets you a $100 fine. Each one after that within 12 months is punishable with a $500 fine.

The appellant had submitted an appeal in writing, but was asked to present his side of the case during Tuesday’s meeting. The BPD officer who gave the citation was there to run down his activities that led to his decision to cite the young man. A neighbor had called 911 several times about the noise, as often as once every 10 minutes.

Bloomington’s ordinance defines excessive noise in a subjective way, not in terms of a measured decibel level. The wording of the local ordinance reads:

For purposes of this chapter, unreasonable noise shall mean sound that is of a volume, frequency, or pattern that prevents, disrupts, injures, or endangers the health, safety, welfare, prosperity, comfort or repose of reasonable persons of ordinary sensitivities within the City of Bloomington, given the time of day or environment in which the sound is made.

Sound that is clearly audible to a person with normal hearing from any place other than the premises from which the source of the sound is located, when the sound occurs between the hours of nine p.m. and seven a.m., is prima facie evidence of a violation of this section.

The officer reported that when he exited the elevator to go to the appellants apartment, he could hear the music clearly down the hallway. That was the basic evidence that led the board of public works members to deny the appeal.