St. Pete mulls arming cops with sound meters

Photo credit: CityofStPete licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As this report shows, urban noise–in this case from restaurants, bars, and clubs–is a problem in St. Petersburg, Florida. So much so that the city council is considering supplying police officers with sound level meters, at an estimated cost of $175,000, and establishing noise limits for various locations at various times of the day.

There are two general patterns of noise laws in the U.S.: those that require measurements of sound levels, and those that allow the enforcement authorities to make a subjective assessment of whether the noise is too loud. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. Objective measurements allow precision and avoid accusations of bias, but the accuracy of the measurement can be questioned. Also, police officers in many jurisdictions have been reported to be reluctant to use the equipment, claiming that they don’t have the proper training.

On the other hand, subjective measurements allow authorities to act if the officer thinks the sound is too loud without arguments about the accuracy of the measurements, but open municipal authorities to accusations of bias in enforcement. In general, police authorities nationwide appear to be reluctant, at best, to enforce existing noise ordinances.

We would suggest that St. Petersburg save money by using one of the highly accurate free sound measurement apps available, e.g., SoundPrint or iHEARu, both of which allow location stamping, or relatively inexpensive sound measurement apps such as Faber Acoustical’s Sound Meter 4 and similar apps. [Note: Faber requires an iPhone and not an Android to be accurate, due to manufacturer variations in hardware and software specifications for Android phones.] Better yet, city council could enact enabling legislation to deputize any citizen with an approved app to report noise violations for enforcement purposes, providing the city with efficient, effective, and free noise monitoring.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.


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