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Some rap, some hail noise ordinance

October 09, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

and TERRY TALBERT

Staff Writers

T.J. White recalls an experience his friend had that makes him think Hagerstown is overzealously enforcing its noise ordinance.

"He went to court for it and they got him again leaving," said White, 17.

The law, which went into effect last October, carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine if a sound system can be heard from 50 feet or more away. Fifty-two people have been charged.

City officials passed the law in response to complaints from residents who said increasingly powerful car stereos were invading their privacy. But many of the city's youth have railed against it.

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"You buy the car. You buy the speakers and you buy the system. You should be able to play it as loud as you want," said Todd Poffenberger, 17.

Hagerstown resident Kendrick Miles, 22, said he could understand a law limiting the volume after midnight. But he said a 24-hour law is excessive.

Despite the possible penalties, Miles said he doubts the law poses much of a deterrent.

"A ticket is a ticket. I'll play it any way I want," he said. "I'm surprised they don't get you for walking down the street with a Walkman."

Hagerstown Police Chief Dale J. Jones said the number of complaints police have received has declined since the law took effect, but he added that measuring the impact is difficult.

"I think it has been effective. We have used it a little more aggressively as time has gone on," Jones said. "We gave people a little time at first to become aware of the law."

Jones said that as part of the enforcement effort, police have set up traps in areas where they get a lot of complaints. They have gone so far as to put a mark on the sidewalk, and stand at a spot 50 feet away. If they hear a car stereo before the auto gets to the chalk mark, they know the driver's in violation.

"The issue is difficult to evaluate, because there was no pre-ordinance survey done," he said. "We didn't set up at an intersection, for example, and count the number of cars driving by with loud stereos. I do know, however, that we haven't received as many complaints this summer as last."

The majority of offenders charged under the law are younger people, Jones said.

That's because police target young people, some youths said. Mike Baker, 20, of Hagerstown, said he was pulled over by Maryland State Police before the new law even took effect. He said police use it as another excuse to pull young people over so they can search for other violations.

And police selectively enforce the law, Baker said.

"You can play country music as loud as you want," he said.

Although police enforce the law all year, Jones said noisy car stereos are mostly a fair-weather problem. "We don't get much in the way of complaints in the winter, when drivers usually have their windows up, and the listeners have their windows closed," he said.

Jones said the noise bothers some residents more than others, depending on their location, and their insulation.

People who live near the street or on alleys in the inner city are more likely to be bothered by passing cars than are others, he said.

Jones said there is thick glass in the windows in his office at headquarters on Burhans Boulevard.

"I rarely hear noise from passing cars when I'm there," he said.

When he's in City Hall offices that front on East Franklin Street, however, it's a different story.

"I can really hear it then," he said.

The local ordinance is harsher than a similar state law that makes it a violation to play your car sound system so loud that it can be heard outside the vehicle, from a distance of 50 feet or more.

Maximum penalty for violating the state law is a $50 fine.

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