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County police going after noise violators

The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel police plan to increase the number of officers devoted to getting residents to turn down the volume, after the county's recent adoption of the tougher state noise pollution laws has been met with a jump in complaints ranging from barking dogs to clanging trash trucks.

In the next two months, the county will form an informal noise abatement unit, with two officers in each of the police department's four districts pursuing complaints, said Cpl. Brian Smith, a traffic coordinator who carries a noise meter as he travels the county.

Since July, Smith said he has handled about four to six calls a day. He can fine people up to $10,000 for exceeding 55 decibels from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., and 65 decibels at other times.

"A lot of people didn't know what the law was," Smith said. "In most cases, they're very happy to comply. We haven't had to charge anybody."

The elimination of the sole state sound inspector in 2005 for budgetary reasons put the burden on local jurisdictions to revise and enforce their noise-pollution laws.

County law prohibits the operating of a radio, machine, tool or similar device that generates an unreasonable sound that can be heard 50 feet away within a residential district.

Anne Arundel County reached an agreement in July with the state Department of the Environment that allows the county to enforce the state's noise laws.

County Executive John R. Leopold pushed for the increased authority as part of a package of nuisance enforcement options that he said will curb activity with the potential to foster more serious crimes. A county man was jailed last month for failing to keep his yard clean, part of an effort to step up enforcement of code violations. In a few days, a county law will take effect targeting panhandlers.

"If left unattended, these nuisance crimes form a breeding ground for more serious crimes," said Leopold, a Republican. "It's like the 'broken windows theory' -- if criminals see a broken window or a trashy yard or graffiti, they'll assume its safe for them to commit more serious crimes."

The county police now have five decibel meters and are pushing to educate residents about what's too loud and when they need to hush.

For instance, Smith can't help residents with the noisy planes that fly over their neighborhood. There's not much he can do about barking dogs or cars that are just too loud. But that doesn't mean residents are out of options.

Pet complaints are forwarded to the county's animal control office, and police can charge drivers with loud cars if they are found to have altered the exhaust systems. Airplane complaints are an issue for the Federal Aviation Administration.

The firing range at Fort Meade and the Capital Raceway in Crofton have also been the source of many complaints, but both are sanctioned.

Eventually, Smith said, much of the enforcement could be handled by patrol officers, with noise abatement officers called in for more serious offenses or repeat offenders.

The new county enforcement has been successful, Smith said, in quieting commercial operations near residential communities, such as overnight trash pickup at shopping centers or forklifts at marinas.

"Those are the types we're getting that we can deal with, that we couldn't deal with before," Smith said. "The county regulations didn't apply to businesses."

Sometimes the businesses aren't aware of the noise regulations. Other times, he said, they're fully aware -- but didn't think any enforcement agency was listening.

"It's an educational process," he said.

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