More than two years after Mesa began cracking down on noise, the city is getting complaints about more than blaring music, barking dogs and boisterous parties.
Mesa is also hearing from residents afflicted by that noise because it seems police aren’t doing much — if they even respond to noise complaints.
Residents lodged 8,745 noise complaints with police in 2011, which resulted in 84 citations. That represents just one percent of all calls.
Mesa Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh said all the city’s elected officials frequently hear the city didn’t do enough when passing a 2009 noise ordinance.
“Progress has been made,” Kavanaugh said. “But I think if you ask the average resident, they’re going to say, ‘Well, it still takes too long. It’s disturbing my neighborhood. It’s not a priority for the police department. My peace is disturbed. The quality of life in my neighborhood is disturbed, and police show up two, three, four hours later.'”
The city’s Public Safety Committee reviewed the ordinance’s shortcomings this week. A major problem is that noise complaints are a low priority that police may not respond to for three hours. By then, the noise is often gone.
Councilman Christopher Glover said the city needs to address the perception that results.
“If they call in and they don’t get a response, it’s like, well, obviously the city doesn’t care,” Glover said.
Police recently discovered they have limited powers to cite businesses when reviewing a cluster of noise complaints from three bars/entertainment venues at Guadalupe and Dobson roads. The city’s zoning rules exempt the businesses from being cited under the noise ordinance.
Police could pursue a disorderly conduct charge, a criminal offense that is a tougher offense to prosecute because it requires a victim willing to testify in court.
Kavanaugh, the safety committee chairman, said he doesn’t believe the business exemption was in the draft ordinance the City Council considered. He has asked the city staff to research how the provision came about, saying it’s a source of many problems.
“There is a sense of frustration in terms of what the city represented several years ago and what was passed,” he said.
Mesa police Lt. Michael Soelberg said police are working to educate noise-generating businesses and focus on repeat offenders. Police will update their dispatch system so it flags problematic businesses and triggers a higher-priority response
“I agree there’s a lot of things we need to do better with this,” Soelberg said. “What we would like to do is improve our response to those.”
Before the 2009 ordinance, Mesa could only take action if a resident made a public complaint because the offense was a criminal misdemeanor. The city changed that to a civil complaint, which allowed police to act as the complainant. The old ordinance was based on decibel levels, which made enforcement difficult because Mesa only had four decibel meters.
Deputy City Manager John Pombier said the city has gotten better at addressing noise complaints. The safety committee gave police another six months to refine their enforcement to see if complaints go down.
He said most businesses that generate complaints are good about working with the city to be better neighbors.
Councilman Dave Richins was skeptical conditions will improve at some businesses. One venue that hosts live bands is in a former fast food restaurant that simply can’t contain the noise, he said. Only city-mandated noise-proofing or disorderly conduct charges will stop that, he said.
“That’s not happening,” Richins said. “So what are you going to tell me in six months that I don’t already know, other than new statistics?”
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