Washington police chief presents ordinance drafts

Published 6:09 pm Tuesday, August 10, 2021

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Washington Police Chief Stacy Drakeford on Monday presented drafts of two ordinances to City Council; one that would update the city’s noise ordinance, and another that would make it illegal to openly carry firearms within city-owned recreational facilities, athletic facilities, playgrounds and athletic fields.

Updates to the current noise ordinance are necessary in order to keep it constitutionally compliant. As it stands now, the ordinance is about a page and a half long; the draft of the ordinance Drakeford presented is approximately 18 pages. It covers everything from sound measurement standards, maximum noise levels for businesses and residential areas, amplification permits and ordinance enforcement standards.

Drakeford said he studied the noise ordinances of 20 other cities while putting the draft together. Some were smaller than Washington, some were the same size and others were as large as Raleigh.

The proposed ordinance says that Washington police officers would use sound level meters to measure decibels when investigating potential noise disturbances. The ordinance says the people using those meters would be trained in sound level measurement and the operations of the device. Drakeford said he’d eventually like to have one meter in every one of the city’s police cars.

“I found a good outline to determine how the men and women will deploy those devices,” Drakeford said. “About where we’re going to measure from; which right now we’re going to measure, if the Council agrees, we’re going to measure 50 feet from the noise, from the property line.

Drakeford added that measurements would be taken at least four feet above the ground and approximately 10 feet away walls, barriers and obstructions, in aprt to avoid sound bouncing off those surfaces.

The proposed ordinance lays out sound level limits by use occupancy. For residential areas, the sound level limit would be 60 decibels between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., and 50 decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.; for public space, commercial or business properties, the proposed limit is 65 decibels between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. and 55 decibels for the rest of the night; and for manufacturing, industrial and agricultural properties, the limit would be 75 decibels at all times. Entities would be able to apply for a “permit to exceed” if they wish to exceed those limits by no more than 10 decibels.

For reference, normal conversation is around 60 decibels, while the noise generated by heavy traffic, a noisy restaurant or a lawnmower can reach between 80-89 decibels.

“I personally picked 60 (decibels),” Drakeford said. “But I will leave it up to Council to determine exactly what they want, because (the scale) really goes up to 140.”

Washington currently charges a $50 fee for noise amplification permits. The city’s code of ordinances says, “No person shall use or operate a sound amplification device that emits sounds audible within a public street or other outdoor place without a valid sound amplification application/permit.”

“I put in the orders that if you want to go above (the limits), then you need a permit. If you want to hook up an amplification, you wouldn’t necessarily have to pay for the application but we’d still like you to fill out an application,” Drakeford said. “So we’d have some restrictions on there, so if you went above it and didn’t get an exceed permit, you already knew what the rules and regulations were when you obtained the amplification permit.”

During the public comment period of Monday’s City Council meeting, several people praised Drakeford’s efforts on the proposal and emphasized the need for more noise control and ordinance enforcement within the city. One of the ideas they brought up was potentially limiting the number of permits a business can receive.

“I felt like it wasn’t on my purview to restrict, on my draft, how many permits an individual can have,” Drakeford said. “If that’s the case, if there is no restriction, I would like to have one permit that covers 30 days worth of events. So if someone is having two or three events in a month, they need one permit. And we’ll put the dates on there, when the permits are valid.”

Drakeford said that in drafting the ordinance, he felt that two permits per year was enough for residential permit holders. Anyone who wanted to exceed that limit could seek permission from the city.

Among other things, the proposed ordinance also addresses motor vehicle noise, setting forth decibel limits and other rules. In accordance with state law, the proposed ordinance says no one can remove or render inoperative the muffler on their vehicle, and vehicles must be free from exhaust system defects that affect sound reduction.

The complete draft of the ordinance can be viewed within the City Council agenda at this shortened link: https://bit.ly/2UcgxqU. Council discussed the draft Monday, but took no action. City Manager Jonathan Russell said some changes and updates need to be made before the city can move forward with the formal implementation process.

In other business, Drakeford introduced a draft of an ordinance that would prohibit the open carry or display of weapons within the city’s properties that are used for recreational and athletic purposes. That includes the city’s parks, cemeteries, boat ramps, sports complexes and facilities and other outdoor areas.

“We’ve already got a state statute that deals with concealed carry,” Drakeford said. “This was more about open carry, especially in parks, playgrounds, parades and festivals.”