A car drives through The Gates at Bouldercrest subdivision earlier this year. DeKalb officials said they get complaints from neighbors in residential areas over loud noises. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

DeKalb may change noise ordinance to improve enforcement

Revised ordinance would do away with decibel measurements in judging noise complaints

DeKalb County is considering changing its noise ordinance to make it simpler for police officers to enforce rules over loud music or construction.

The proposal, currently under review by the county’s legal department, would do away with decibel measurements that are currently used by officers to determine whether to issue a noise violation. That system requires a noise meter to test the sound level.

The DeKalb County Police Department owns just two of those devices, according to Gregory Padrick, an assistant police chief who made a presentation to a county commission committee Thursday. The sound meters are expensive to purchase and maintain, and can make it hard for police officers to properly respond to noise complaints in a timely way, Padrick said.

The revised ordinance would instead judge all noise complaints based on distance.

During the day, noise from music, a party, or a person shouting cannot be audible from inside a home more than 300 feet away, under to the proposed changes. That’s the length of a football field, minus the end zones. At night — from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weeknights and midnight to 7 a.m. on weekends — that distance is reduced to 100 feet, according to a copy of the proposal presented Thursday.

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Construction noise cannot be audible from 100 feet away between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., under the changes.

The ordinance was modeled after the rules in Athens-Clarke County, home of the University of Georgia, which has its fair share of noisy parties.

Padrick said the new standard would make it easier for officers to respond to noise complaints and judge whether there is a violation, before addressing the source of the noise.

“Hopefully, this will help us to get away from having to use the tools that aren’t typically in our box and frustrating people in that regard,” said Commissioner Jeff Rader, referencing the sound meter devices.

County attorney Viviane Ernstes said she planned to review the ordinance and talk with officials in Athens before returning with tweaks and recommendations at a future date.

Officials did not say when the revised ordinance could be passed. County commissioners could also amend the proposed changes before they are voted on.

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Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson said she hopes to plan community meetings to educate residents about the new ordinance and get their feedback.

The minimum penalties for violating the ordinance would not change: $200 for the first violation, $500 for the next violation within a year and $1,000 if there is another violation within two years of the first conviction. And there are still some exceptions, including brief car or fire alarms, protests and airplanes.

DeKalb’s noise ordinance has been a source of community concern for years. Before 2010, only the county’s code enforcement officers could write noise violation tickets, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution archives. The county commission approved changes that year allowing police officers to respond to complaints as well.

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In other news:

Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher has been covering the ongoing dispute for more than a year.

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