March 1, 2019
For immediate release
Chapel Hill: Davenport, Iowa has won this month’s Noisy Dozen award from Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet. The River City has earned the award for declining to prosecute or even cite the owners of noisy vehicles. Major thoroughfares in Davenport continuously echo with hugely amplified internal combustion engines, and residential streets are liable to be disrupted at any hour. The characteristic sound of Davenport is the amplified waste gas–the flatulence– of Harleys, rust buckets, and hot rods.
Specific noise problems in Davenport arise from:
(1) After-market exhausts on cars and motorcycles. These exhausts are prohibited by EPA regulations and by state and city ordinance. The exhaust systems are designed for and advertised as producing an “aggressive” tone.
(2) Vehicle exhausts in need of repair.
(3) Loud car stereos.
(4) Dogs left outside or at an open window to bark for long periods.
Patrick Tibbits, a Davenport resident, noted that “the police are willing to come out to talk to people having loud parties outside, or to those leaving their garage doors open while causing noise with power tools. However, the police do not talk to owners of loud vehicles. They instead talk to the complainant. Lieutenant Gilbert Proehl took the time to respond to email. Sergeant J.J. Willey dropped by the house in person and collected license numbers and addresses for the loud vehicles. He spent the better part of an hour explaining that the city ordinance contained the language ‘smoke and noise’ and could not be enforced unless the officer observed both.”
Tibbits stated that “this is a ridiculous standard. Are the police required to observe a murder in order to prosecute a murder case? Are the police required to observe a robbery in order to prosecute a robbery case? This very loose standard in the Davenport noise ordinance allows noisemakers free rein to inflict their obnoxious noise on the public.”
In April of 2017, Tibbits corresponded with Tiffany Thorndike, the executive assistant to the Davenport city manager. The correspondence went as follows:
-Tibbits: “Would you like to pass these citizen survey results along to the city manager? Davenport city ordinances against excessive noise are on the books.
“The 62 neighbors from Davenport who filled out a survey said (on average) they wanted enforcement of noise ordinances. Loud vehicles and stereos are disliked more than fireworks, which are disliked by a strong margin. The neighbors would sign a petition, but would not write their alderman. There is a “silent” majority in favor of peace and quiet.”
The survey is available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DN9VL8L. The 62
responses are summarized below.
1. Is enforcement of the ordinance against fireworks important to you? Yes 68%
2. Is enforcement of the ordinance against loud vehicles important to you? Yes 71%
3. Is enforcement of the ordinance against loud stereo systems important to you? Yes 74%
4. Would you like to sign a petition to the City Council asking for better enforcement of noise ordinances? Yes 65%
5. Would you like to write a letter to the City Councilman of your Ward? No 66%
6. Would you like assistance in writing the letter? No 83%
-Tibbits: “An explanation of why existing laws are not enforced is sought.”
-Thorndike: “Which specific city ordinance? I would be happy to have the Davenport police department take a look at numbers but I can tell you that from my experiences as one of the city’s ombudsman is that (1) residents don’t call 911 to have the problem addressed or they call and the problem stopped before police arrived; (2) the noise violation has to be witnessed by the police officer and that in and of itself can be difficult; and (3) noise variance violations are a lower priority call. I will follow up with more information as I have it. Thanks, Patrick!”
-Tibbits: “Is the making of excuses in your job description? You don’t feel any obligation to read the ordinances provided to you? Yes, I do call. I provide times at which loud cars pass, their license numbers, addresses of the residences of the violators all can and have been provided. The only missing element is for a policeman to enforce the law.
“Referring me back to the police completes the circle on the classic runaround. If you know the ordinances, show me where the noise violation has to be witnessed by the police officer. Or why the officer will not show up at the time and place when the violation regularly occurs. I will have to sue the jerk down the street because the city won’t ticket him.”
Ms. Thorndike, like the police, spent a considerable amount of time explaining why no action was to be taken, but spent no time investigating the law or fulfilling the request to pass the poll results to the city manager. In her capacity as a non-elected administrative assistant, she made a policy decision on behalf of the city to shield the owners of illegal aftermarket exhausts.
Blocked by Administrative Assistant Thorndike, Tibbits contacted Alderman Maria Dickmann, who provided the e-mail address of Tom Warner of the city’s legal department. Correspondence with Mr. Warner was initially promising.
Dear Mr. Warner:
Is it true that loud vehicles can be brought to the attention of the Davenport Legal Department for enforcement of a fine for excessive noise?
According to the Quad City Times, a noise ordinance went into effect in 2003.
Citizens may phone in complaints — about sound systems that can be heard from at least 50 feet away — to the city’s legal department number, (563) 326-7735
Complainants must include the make, color, and license number of the vehicle, and the time and place of the offense.
Warner responded, “Sorry for the delay. The simple answer is ‘Yes’ for radios. We need the time, location, description of vehicle and plate number. Thanks. “
The Davenport noise ordinance, in section 10.68.280, “Motor vehicle radio—Offense by owner” specifies “The owner of any vehicle that creates a noise disturbance, by means of a radio or similar device is subject to civil sanction. ‘Noise disturbance’ means any sound which annoys or disturbs a reasonable person of normal sensitivities or which can be heard at a distance of fifty feet. Subsequent violations shall be subject to a civil fine of up to five hundred dollars, and the removal of the radio for the period of one year.”
Tibbits replied to Warner: “It will be a pleasure to report noisy car stereos. Will the same sort of report work to get enforcement of the ordinance against loud exhausts? Motorcycles on the residential street in front of my residence are audible for several blocks.”
In regards for “permissible noise levels” for “motor vehicles and motorcycles,” the Davenport noise ordinance also states that “It is unlawful for any person to operate or cause to be operated a motor vehicle or motorcycle within the city limits at any time in such a manner that the sound level emitted by the motor vehicle or motorcycle exceeds the level set forth…or otherwise creates a noise disturbance.
A. Adequate Mufflers or Sound Dissipative Devices.
1. No person shall operate within the city limits any motor vehicle not equipped with a muffler in good working order so as not to create a nuisance to any person.”
Mr. Tibbits received no reply to this inquiry to Tom Warner about exhaust noise. No replies were received to reports of noisy vehicle exhausts. Which set of scofflaws is the city protecting? Does the city manager own an after-market exhaust system?
Ted Rueter, director of Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet, commented that “the noise situation in Davenport is very typical. The police and city administrators chose to ignore the epidemic of noise from illegal after-market exhausts, vehicle exhausts in need of repair, loud car stereos, and barking dogs. The result is damage to public health and a community’s quality of life. Davenport’s police and city officials should take the issue of noise seriously and dramatically step up enforcement efforts.”
Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet is a nation citizens’ organization devoted to noise reduction. Past “winners” of the Noisy Dozen award include Appleton, Wisconsin; the Minnesota Speedway Park; and Flint, Michigan.