Monday, December 9, 2013

'Tis the Season for (Noise) Tolerance

by RCA Board Member Connie Hartke

A class 3 misdemeanor carries up to a $500 fine and stays on your Virginia record forever.  That’s what you’ll be giving your neighbors this winter if you call the police to ask them to quiet down the party next door.  This is the current penalty in Fairfax County for a first offense.

The reason this law was adopted is briefly explained in Tom Jackman’s Washington Post article, but basically it has to do with a 2009 VA Supreme Court ruling about a case in Virginia Beach.   On December 3 the pendulum swung too far the other way when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted a temporary noise ordinance for residential areas.

The law is too broad; the penalty for a first offense too harsh.  But it is what we have for now and everyone needs to know about it.

Spread the word!  How unfortunate if a promising young 20-something holding a New Year’s party gets this misdemeanor.  S/he can eventually have the record removed from public view, but it will always be there for government agencies and others who are permitted to see the complete record.  This young person will have extra explaining to do when applying for a security clearance.  Some tolerance the night of the party and a face to face discussion the next day would be a valuable holiday gift.

The Board of Supervisors will be re-examining this law next year.  What can be done to influence change?  Email your suggestions to  Robert C. Chanaud, Ph.D. has authored a document which may be useful  to scan for ideas:  “Noise Ordinances - Tools for Enactment, Modification and Enforcement of a Community Noise Ordinance.”  If you don’t have time to pour through his manual, the following may help give your thoughts structure:   civil, not criminal; a practical measure of noise that does not require a machine to measure (e.g., decibels); first offense warning followed by increasing fines for multiple violations, and a process for complaint (can there be a step before a phone call to the non-emergency police line – some sort of mediation in some cases?). 

Make a note on January’s calendar to offer some suggestions to the Supervisors.  In the meantime, put a note about this in emails to friends and do what you can to ensure that no one accidentally puts a criminal mark on a neighbor’s record because they did not realize the full ramification of a late night call to the police asking them to quiet down the party next door.

Wishing you all a safe and relatively quiet holiday season!

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