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Party police on patrol: Noise complaints among residents’ most-frequent calls

Published: Friday, Aug. 29, 2014 11:26 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Aug. 29, 2014 11:32 p.m. CDT

DeKALB – If you’re planning a party, officials recommend letting your neighbors know – unless you want police knocking on your door.

Noise complaints were the second-most-common type of call DeKalb police received last year, right behind calls for suspicious activity. Officers can use their discretion in deciding whether to issue a $100 noise violation ticket, but more serious matters can lead to more serious fines.

“If your neighbor is having a party at 3 a.m., you have an infant, and they’ve had problems before but we’ve never been there, we’d issue a citation,” DeKalb police Cmdr. John Petragallo said. “But in general, if we haven’t dealt with them before, we’d issue a warning, [unless the neighbor insists on signing a complaint].”

If noise coming from a property can be heard at a volume greater than 55 decibels at the property line between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., then it’s too loud under the law. From 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., the limit is 60 decibels.

A running dishwasher or normal conversation reach about 60 decibels, while a whisper is about 30 decibels and a gunshot is about 140 decibels, according to the American Academy of Audiology.

Noise complaints have decreased slightly for DeKalb police, but Northern Illinois University officers have seen an uptick.

Last year, DeKalb police responded to 1,371 calls for noise complaints, compared wit 1,414 in 2012 and 1,427 in 2011, according to DeKalb Police Department’s 2013 annual report. At NIU, police were called to loud noise complaints 70 times in 2013, 61 in 2012 and 57 in 2011, according to NIU Police Cmdr. Don Rodman.

Police officers usually receive noise complaints from neighbors and spend anywhere from a few minutes up to an hour at the scene, depending on how large the party is, Petragallo said. If it’s their first time there, they ask the homeowner to turn down the noise.

If a citation is written, the city’s Crime Free Housing Bureau is notified. The bureau then notifies the property owner if the loud noise was at a rental property.

Noise complaints are handled differently at NIU. As soon as officers are called to a loud noise complaint at a residence hall, they immediately call the community adviser and hall director to accompany them, Rodman said. If there is no illegal activity taking place, such as underage drinking or marijuana use, then students are normally referred to the student conduct office that handles possible punishments, he said.

NIU officers handle loud noise complaints when illegal activity is taking place and cite or charge the those involved accordingly. When a loud noise complaint occurs off-campus, DeKalb officers sometimes accompany NIU officers as part of a co-policing effort, Rodman said.

NIU police officers spoke with students living on campus recently during residential hall floor meetings to advise them of how police handle loud noise calls and how to avoid getting into those situations, Rodman said.

Overall, authorities said each noise complaint is handled on a case-by-case basis. If police choose to cite someone for keeping a disorderly house, it leads to a larger fine of $300. Disorderly house citations can be given if someone is using illegal drugs and a neighbor is disturbed by the odor, Petragallo said.

“For noise, the best advice is to be respectful to your neighbors,” Petragallo said. “If you plan a party, notify your neighbors so they know. When it’s during later hours, start to quiet it down.”

Daily Chronicle News Editor Jillian Duchnowski contributed to this report.

How loud is too loud?

DeKalb Municipal Code prohibits noises that can be heard at the property line louder than 60 decibels between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. and louder than 55 decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. A running dishwasher and normal conversation is about 60 decibels.

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