Appeal of noise violation ticket, with some wrinkles, given routine denial by Bloomington

At its regular Tuesday meeting, Bloomington’s three-member board of public works denied an appeal by a resident for a noise violation ticket.

This scan is from a revised information packet provided to the Bloomington board of public works for its Jan. 3, 2022 meeting. (1) The social security number of the ticketed person was removed only after initial publication of the packet. (2) The fine amount was a part of the scan in the initial packet, but was added after the ticket was issued—which is standard practice.

That’s par for the course when a noise ordinance violation is appealed to the board—in part because the local law establishes a low and clear bar for what qualifies as an unreasonable noise.

Between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. any sound that is audible for a person with normal hearing, who is outside the premises where the sound is originating, counts as a violation.

The case heard on Tuesday included a couple of wrinkles. One was the delay between the issuance of the ticket and its appeal. The ticket was issued just after midnight on Aug. 21, 2022.

The three-month delay got some questions from board members at their work session, which was held an hour and a half before the regular meeting.

The other wrinkle did not get any board discussion: Included in the initial publication of the board’s meeting information packet was an image scan of the ticket, which featured the violator’s social security number (SSN).

Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act prohibits a public agency from releasing a SSN, unless it’s specifically required by a state or federal statute .

In a subsequent version of the meeting information packet, the social security number had been scrubbed from the image, not redacted with a more typical black box.

The citation was for excessive noise on Aug. 21 last year, in connection with a party in the 1300 block of North Washington Street.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Bloomington police department officer Thomas Kruezman appeared in person in front of the board to describe the circumstances of the ticket.

Kruezman said that four or five complaints had been received about a loud party at two houses on opposite sides of the street. There was an amplified sound system outside on the porch of the house where the ticket was being appealed, he said. Tickets had been issued to both houses, Kruezman said.

Members of the board are: Kyla Cox-Deckard, Elizabeth Karon, and Jennifer Lloyd.

Board members wanted to know why there had been a three-month delay between the issuance of the citation and the appeal that they were hearing.

Assistant city attorney Chris Wheeler told board members the appeal was allowed to go forward, even though under the terms of the ordinance, it should have been made within seven days of the citation.

Wheeler said that only when Brandon Sermersheim became aware that he owed a $50 fine for the ticket—because he’d received a letter from the legal department—did he try to file an appeal.

In the written appeal filed by Sermersheim, he wrote: “There was no talk of any sort of citation that needed to be paid, by any of the five officers that were present.”

Appearing at Tuesday’s meeting via the Zoom video conference platform, Sermersheim said, “There was no $50 or amount listed on it. So I kind of assumed that there was no ticket.” He was confused when he received a letter in the mail after three months, Sermersheim said.

Board members got confirmation that the notation of “$50” with a circle around it had been added to the ticket later by staff, after the ticket was issued. So they wanted to know how someone is supposed to know that the ticket is actually a ticket, and not a warning, if there’s no fine amount written on it.

Wheeler said warnings are issued verbally. If there’s a piece of paper handed to someone, that means there’s a fine attached, Wheeler said.

Out in the field, a police officer won’t know if the person has prior offenses, Wheeler said. Prior offenses are important, because the fine schedule for noise ordinance violations calls for escalating fine amounts for additional violations within a year. The first offense is $50. The second offense is $100. After that the amount goes to $500 for each violation.

The back side of the ticket lays out the required action for someone who receives it, Wheeler said. The options printed out on the reverse side of the ticket are: to accept responsibility and pay the fine; or to make an appeal within seven days.

Kruezman said he told Sermersheim on the night he gave him the ticket that it was a ticket and told him that he had to pay it, or contest it, something that was recorded on body camera, Kruezman said.

Wheeler made another point about why there’s no fine amount written on a noise ordinance ticket. It’s because there’s no blank on the ticket to be filled in, to record the fine amount.

There is, however, a blank to be filled in with a social security number or driver’s license number. That’s the other wrinkle in connection with Tuesday’s appeal.

Included in the meeting information packet initially published on the city’s website, was an image scan of the ticket, which featured the violator’s social security number.

The social security number for the ticketed person was removed in a subsequent revised publication of the meeting information packet.

Under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act,  a social security number is a piece of information that is not allowed to be released, except under certain conditions.

From the APRA:

IC 5-14-3-4 Records and recordings exempted from disclosure; time limitations; destruction of records
Sec. 4. (a) The following public records are excepted from section 3 of this chapter and may not be disclosed by a public agency, unless access to the records is specifically required by a state or federal statute or is ordered by a court under the rules of discovery:

(12) A Social Security number contained in the records of a public agency.

One thought on “Appeal of noise violation ticket, with some wrinkles, given routine denial by Bloomington

  1. Good catch, Dave! SSNs are key information for identity theft. The city needs to tighten things up. Ideally, they wouldn’t collect SSNs at all, assuming they could find some other identifier to use in its place.

    Noise violations such as this one are part of life in the core neighborhoods. Typically, as in this case, violations begin early in the Fall Semester, complaints are made and some level of understanding is achieved. Things are largely quiet for the rest of the semester, perhaps partly because the weather turns cold. But often when the weather warms up in the spring whatever understanding that was achieved in the fall is forgotten and a refresher course is required.

    Thankfully, there is ‘a low and clear bar for what qualifies as an unreasonable noise’.

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