New ordinance won’t sound good to students
Noisemakers, beware — on Wednesday, the Houston City Council made prosecuting noise violations even easier.
The fine for a noise violation has doubled and now stands at $1,000. Police can still cite citizens for noise that “unreasonably disturbs” others, but authorities do not have to use sound meters (or any device at all) to issue a citation.
However, the revisions to the city ordinance are still unclear — officers are supposed to use sound meters to check whether or not a violation is occurring. Unfortunately, the meters are costly, and the city cannot afford to purchase enough of the devices to go around. So officers still have the option of citing people based purely on how loud they perceive the sound to be.
The issue is not that the fine has doubled, and it is not even that officers have leeway when giving tickets — every person has been on the losing end of a next-door neighbor’s all-night party. The problem is, how well will these violations stand up in court?
Instead of making an investment in the materials needed to enforce the law properly, law enforcement officials will be asked to literally play it by ear.
Having no evidence other than an officer’s testimony is tricky enough, and if it comes down to an officer’s word against a citizen’s testimony, there are few ways to check whether the violation is valid or excessive.
Another issue with the ordinance stems from the use of permits. If someone has no permit, they are only allowed to reach 65 decibels. If that person gets a permit, they are allowed to go up to 75 decibels — which is roughly twice as loud, because of the way decibels scale as the numbers increase.
Opponents to the ordinance say that officers have too much power in determining what is and is not a noise violation.
“Expecting an officer to issue violations based on what they arbitrarily hear is akin to asking an officer to write speeding tickets based on what they see,” said Omar Afra in a Houston Chronicle article.