September 27, 2004

Can Students Party Quietly?

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In April, Ithaca’s Common Council responded to a growing concern for local quality of life issues by overwhelmingly passing a revised noise ordinance. Among other things, the noise ordinance stepped up the minimum and maximum penalties for convicted violators, while it detailed a list of nine aggravating offenses that exacerbate any particular violation.

Last month, the Council revised this ordinance with an amendment specifying more circumstances under which police officers can enter a home without receiving a neighborhood noise complaint. Those supporting the amendment argued that many neighbors are often too afraid to complain to the authorities or are unwilling to put their names on a police record when they are truly annoyed by noise.

Both 4th-ward aldermen, Michael Taylor ’05 and Gayraud Townsend ’05, voted against the amendment, arguing that unsolicited disciplinary action, often times may be unnecessary, especially if neighbors are not annoyed by the noise in the first place.

“The point of this ordinance is to protect the neighbors,” said Taylor. “It should be the neighbors who determine when noise becomes a nuisance.”

Especially critical of the ordinance’s enforcement, Taylor and Townsend are currently working with the city attorney to standardize the treatment that noise violators receive. As the ordinance stands now, individual police officers exercise a considerable amount of their own discretion when determining the consequences that a noise offender receives. A typical noise violation may result in a number of different responses, ranging anywhere from a warning to an actual arrest.

“When do we give violations versus warnings?” asked Taylor. “In a lot of cases, warnings are issued. I think that’s the most effective way of responding to a complaint,” he said.

It is unclear whether the noise ordinance has resulted in a significant increase in the volume of violations prosecuted, as the Ithaca Police Department. failed to provide The Sun with recent data detailing the number of noise-related incidents. However, when she addressed Cornell, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College students and faculty at the Campus Community Coalition meeting on Sept. 13, Ithaca Chief of Police Lauren Signer reported that in recent weeks there has been an influx of police activity related to noise and alcohol offenses.

Whether or not the new ordinance has increased the volume of citations, one thing is clear– there is very strong correlation between noise violations and alcohol-related offenses. In August and September, every noise violation recorded at Ithaca College and in the surrounding areas was accompanied by an alcohol-related citation.

Not shocked by this phenomenon, Taylor said, “If there is a noise violation and alcohol is involved, no one is surprised…When students are out at night and intoxicated, [they] tend to be loud.”

IC has responded to noise and alcohol related offenses by taking the noise ordinance a step further. Partnering with the IPD to develop a proxy for addressing repeat offenders, the IC administration plans to identify houses that are repeatedly cited for noise and alcohol offenses, notify the students’ parents, and schedule conferences with the students at fault. This plan, which was presented to the Campus Community Coalition on Sept. 13, should be implemented this academic year.

As of now, Cornell has no plans to adopt a similar policy. According to Linda Grace-Kobas, director of the Cornell News Service, the Cornell Police Department may assist in handling a noise violation that occurs off-campus, but that is essentially the extent to which Cornell jurisdiction over off-campus noise extends.

“When Cornell Police receive a noise complaint about a building on campus, they will, in most cases, give occupants a warning. If they don’t comply, CUPD will shut down the party,” she explained. “If CUPD gets a complaint about noise in a building off-campus, they will call in Ithaca Police, and assist as IPD enforces the ordinance,” Grace-Kobas added.

When asked if he expected Cornell to adopt a policy similar to IC’s, Taylor remained skeptical, adding that any change of this nature would also apply to Cornell faculty.

Archived article by Ellen Miller
Sun Senior Writer