Just what is an acceptable level of noise? In Newark it’s really low — now the lowest in the United States.
The threshold dropped considerably this week, as the city council voted to adopt a strict noise ordinance with criminal liability. While the measure passed with near unanimous support, Newark City Councilman Todd Ruckle strongly opposed the new ordinance, calling it bad for business, residents and college students.
Town Square Delaware: What was your reaction to the noise ordinance vote the Newark City Council took Monday night? And what are the potential legal consequences of the measure?
Todd Ruckle: I was highly disappointed that the other council members turned the strictest noise ordinance in the state into the strictest in the country. This fact was confirmed by the sound expert the city hired for our sound workshops.
TSD: What kind of sanctions are we talking about for violators? (louder than a .42 decibel threshold between 1 and 5 am)
TR: The new ordinance requires a criminal charge if offenders are found violating the low noise level ordinance. A misdemeanor offense that will carry with someone their entire life. The second offense could land someone in jail for up to six months. These type of convictions could injure someone later in life.
An overzealous neighbor who can hear any sound over a silence between 1 am and 5 am that is similar to being in a library will call the police and report that a crime is being committed.
Just think — a kid could be out on their balcony and talking to a friend after 1 am, and they could be found in violation of the ordinance. The police respond and see that it’s one individual outside on their deck talking to another individual. The police have to act because a law potentially has been broken. The officer can not pick and choose the laws to enforce.
The person in violation of this new ordinance can get a fine and plead guilty on the first offense. Now, let’s say that same homeowner goes out at 1 am and shovels their snow because they have to get out of their driveway by 5 am to get to work. The neighbor calls again because the scrapping of the shovel is loader then .42 decibels. Now a judge can sentence the owner to up to 6 months in jail, as this would be the home owner’s second offense. There are countless other examples one could think about. The old level would allow talking and most noise equal to two people talking.
TSD: What was wrong with Newark’s current noise ordinance?
TR: We already had the strictest noise ordinance in the state, and it seemed to be working. Our city solicitor confirmed we have never had a criminal case using a noise meter in our city’s entire history. There are some loud parties in Newark, but this is standard college stuff, and there’s no reason our noise ordinance has to be the toughest in the nation.
TSD: What were the reasons the City Council voted for a stricter noise ordinance?
TR: My best guess is some council members were pressured by the public to stop the development of the University of Delaware STAR Campus. It was stated at the last council meeting that the University of Delaware’s lease agreement with the STAR Campus has a clause that states any tenant must follow the City of Newark’s Noise Ordinance.
After discussions with our City Solicitor, this ordinance does not even affect the current level for the University of Delaware, which includes the STAR Campus. It will affect every student off the University property. So Newark residents and business owners are the ones truly affected by this measure. Can you imagine how the parents will feel sending their children to the University of Delaware if they know their child could get arrested for talking after 1 am in the morning?
TSD: How will this affect Newark businesses, the college students themselves, and the public’s image of Newark?
TR: It’s literally going to devastate the city. It’s a bad law. Business will not want to come to Quiet Town USA. Many folks outside the city will not want to come down to our restaurants if the know they could be arrested for talking after 1 am.
Students are of course at the greatest risk. The first infraction for violators is a $100 to $ 500 fine and a misdemeanor on their permanent record. The second is a fine and up to 6 months in jail. They will have a criminal record that will carry with them the rest of their lives.
TSD: Who will measure the noise levels? And will residents be able to call police about suspected violators if they don’t themselves have the proper equipment to measure sound levels?
TR: We just made a law that we can’t even enforce. We’re going have to hire people to do this. We are going to spend more taxpayer dollars on hiring additional police officers to be on call to respond to potential noise violations, and they will all need to be trained to observe and properly enforce this incredibly strict noise ordinance.
And all of the equipment will have to be certified, and we will need to train people to become experts on accurately measuring noise levels from certain distances. A local attorney told me that any noise ordinance is not even enforceable because there are too many variables for a conviction. The funny thing is we have really incredible crime suppression units that are hitting the pavement hard from 1 am to 5 am. Could you imagine a violent crime taking place when one of our officers is waiting outside someone’s house with a noise meter for 30 minutes?