September 1, 2006

Ithaca Police Enforce New Noise Statutes

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The normally raucous atmosphere in Collegetown during the first few weeks into the fall semester has been noticeably quieter and even subdued this year due to increased efforts by the Ithaca Police Department.
Law enforcement officers have been added as a measure to make sure that the Ithaca Police Department is able to “fully enforce the law,” according to Senior Deputy Chief John Curatolo.
As of Wednesday, the Ithaca Police Department had filed reports of 84 noise violations, 50 open alcohol container violations, eight instances of underage drinking and three cases of disorderly conduct since the first day of freshmen orientation. Of these violations, only 10 were arrested and needed to post bail. A particularly controversial aspect of the crackdown in Collegetown has been what many students are describing as too stringent a policy on noise violations. Many students have received noise violation tickets both while standing and talking on the porches of Collegetown houses and for being too loud inside their own property.
The Ithaca Common Council passed these stricter noise ordinances in 2004, which state that an individual can be ticketed for noise coming from the person heard over 25 feet away. The ordinance sets maximum penalties for first offenses at $500, with 15 days in jail and 100 hours of community service; $750, 15 days and 125 hours for second offenses; and $1,000, 15 days and 125 hours for a third offense in three years.
The enforcement of noise ordinances, although passed by a vote of 9-1 by the Common Council, have already received a strong legal rebuke in federal courts.
Just a few months ago, a preacher named Kevin Deegan had his noise violation overturned by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan because the court found that the ordinances violated his right to free speech. Deegan argued, and the Court agreed, that compliance with the 25-foot rule would have silenced him in his religious preaching.
Even with the overturning of a noise violation, the police continue to have the New York State penal code behind them which states that law enforcement officers have the right to regulate “any unreasonable noise.”
The increased police effort stems from complaints of Collegetown residents who do not partake in the student parties. Curatolo explained that it is not fair to these residents to constantly encounter unreasonably loud noise, public urination and other “quality of life” issues.
In deference to the constituency that Curatolo mentions, one of the two Collegetown representatives to the Common Council voted for the implementation of the noise ordinances.
Gayraud Townsend ’05 (D-4th Ward), in support of his vote, explained, “complaints have certainly gone down. Students have responded well. They understand that the law has changed, understand the parameters around the law and have become more cognizant of the fact that this law exists. But at the beginning of the year students are less knowledgeable about what they can and cannot do.”
In order to decrease the number of tickets and arrests, Townsend desires a better way of “educating” the students who are just coming back to school about the noise ordinances and other laws governing behavior in Collegetown.
Even though the increased police presence may decrease as students settle into their academic schedule, the Ithaca Police Department is fully ready to implement the extra force whenever necessary, especially around big party times.
And while Curatolo would not specify which days the increased forces would descend on Collegetown, he did confirm that this same initiative would be around for many orientation and senior weeks to come.