The police are often called about noise disturbances, particularly in residential areas. When a noise complaint is received two things usually happen. First, the complaining party will tell us the source of the noise, how excessively loud it is, and how long it has been going on. When police arrive at the scene, the “offending” party often tells us that it’s not too late for them to be making noise, or that the noise is not too loud. So what are the rules?
The City of Westfield has three statutes governing noise. They can be found under section 10-31, 10-32, and 10-33. Section 10-31 and 10-32 outline several time frames and decibel levels for different zoning districts. These are some general guidelines that are followed by a broad list of exemptions and limitations. Both of these sections are mostly centered on business, construction and other commercial endeavors.
Section 10-33 governs what police are most often called about. This is noise created by someone that end up bothering someone else, such as a loud party, a loud stereo, someone revving a car engine, or the people upstairs making too much noise. When officers arrive at one of these complaints it is the officer who must make the determination as to whether the noise is reasonable or unreasonable. There is no specific time outlined nor is there any specific decibel level that must be attained in order for there to be a violation. A violation of this section could happen at 10:00 am, 10:00 pm, or any time before or after. Section 10-33 does outline several things the officer must take into consideration when determining the reasonableness of noise:
“The characteristics and conditions which should be considered in determining whether a prima facie violation of the provisions of this section exists should include, but not be limited to the following:
a. The level of the noise;
b. Whether the nature of the noise is usual or unusual;
c. Whether the origin of the noise is natural or unnatural;
d. The level of the ambient noise;
e. The proximity of the noise to sleeping facilities;
f. The nature and zoning of the area from which the noise emanates and the area where it is received;
g. The time of day or night the noise occurs;
h. The duration of the noise; and
i. Whether the noise is recurrent, intermittent, or constant.”
As officers often explain to people, 30 people sitting around on a Sunday afternoon watching a football game that can be heard cheering from several houses away may not be deemed unreasonable given the time of day, the likelihood that people are not sleeping, and the probability that the noise will end when the game is over which would be at a reasonable hour. On the other hand, two people watching Monday Night Football that goes late into the night making noise that can be heard several houses away may end up being deemed unreasonable by the responding officer.
An officer has several options when responding to a noise complaint he or she finds to be unreasonable. A verbal or written warning can be issued, a citation in the amount of $100 can be issued to anyone and everyone present and responsible for creating the noise, or depending on the circumstances criminal charges or arrests may be made for disturbing the peace. Again, many things are taken into consideration when making this decision to include but not limited to the amount of cooperation officers receive, the number of previous noise violations, and the actual volume of the noise.
If you would like to review the noise ordinance you can access that on the “Services” tab of the Westfield Police Department Web site, or click this link.