by Cindy Bevington

KPC Media Group (Indiana)

August 26, 2007

School’s back in session. And, with it, neighborhoods are suddenly awake with the tintinnabulation of the sounds of school — marching bands with screeching trombones and big bass drums, roaring crowds at ball stadiums and football fields and the boom-boom-boom of car stereos blasting the latest teen music far beyond the vehicle from whence the music comes.

But is it music? Does everybody warm to a marching band, or clap in time to the boom-car’s vibrations? For that matter, does the whole neighborhood stand up and cheer from three blocks away at hearing the fans go crazy when the home team makes a touchdown?

The reality is, what is music to some people’s ears can be noise to someone else.

“Noise is defined as unwanted sound,” said Ted Rueter, founder of Noise Free America. “And noise is a great threat to quality of life, property values and even health. That’s why we believe that noise ordinances should be a high priority.”

Dedicated to fighting noise pollution, Noise Free America comes down especially hard on “boom” cars — the booming stereo ones — car alarms, leaf blowers and motorcycles. The organization has a chapter in Indiana, Noise Free Indiana, with local chapters around the state.

The organization runs a web site at, which ranks various types of noise, hands out an award called the “noisy dozen” — Elkhart and South Bend recently “won” this dubious honor of being among the noisiest 12 communities in the U.S. — and offers tips on how to form local Noise Free chapters. The organization also gives advice on how to encourage government officials to enforce or adopt noise ordinances.

Ordinances vary around the area

Around northeast Indiana, noise ordinances vary, depending on the community. Steuben County doesn’t have a noise ordinance of its own. Neither does LaGrange County or town — instead, they follow a state statute addressing disorderly conduct.

DeKalb County doesn’t have a noise ordinance either — but Auburn does, as do Angola, Kendallville, Ligonier and Orland. In February Noble County adopted an ordinance that specifically targets dogs or any other domestic pets that “disturb the peace or quiet of the neighborhood.”

In other words, it’s now against the law to bark in Noble County. But wait — Angola’s had that law on its books for years. But before anyone scoffaws at this as nonsense, it’s important to remember that the origination of laws like this generally stem from people being inconsiderate of other people’s quiet zones, Rueter said.

“People are just plain inconsiderate to think that their noise doesn’t bother anyone, that other people don’t want to hear boats on the lake at 5 a.m., for example,” Rueter said. “The point is, noise, no matter how you define it, is a symptom of the decline of culture and a sign of incivility toward others.”

With over 100 lakes and a state park within its borders, Steuben County knows about lake noise complaints, said Steuben Sheriff Rick Lewis. But, because of the nature of a tourism-based county, his staff tries to encourage residents to balance festiveness with respect for one’s neighbors.

“Let’s face it. Steuben County in the summer is a resort community, and from time to time we do get these complaints. So what we do is look at it according to when it is. For example, if it’s a loud music complaint, we usually consider the time of night and the day of week it is,” Lewis said. “Loud, continuous music at 2 a.m. would be something we’d go out for. But if it was 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, we would look at it differently.”

LaGrange Sheriff Terry Martin agrees. “We don’t usually say much on Friday or Saturday night until after midnight,” Martin said.

In Angola, where Tri-State University students add to the resort area’s noise factor, assistant police chief Stu Hamlin said that his department tries to balance noise complaints with reason. For example, he believes complaints he’s heard about the ball stadiums being too noisy are “ridiculous.” But, all noise problems are valid concerns, he added.

“Usually we have parties where there is yelling or screaming or loud music,” Hamlin said. “What we do is go out and talk to the people where the complaint is. If it’s a fraternity, we ask to speak to the president, and we give them a warning. Most of the time that’s all it takes.

“But, if we have to go out a second time, then we’ll arrest the person in charge of the house. Usually that’s the president, and he doesn’t want to go to jail, so everything usually quiets down.”

Using a noise meter

The beer tent at Angola’s Fall Fest used to draw some noise complaints, Hamlin said. But now the music quiets down or shuts off at 11 p.m., resolving those complaints, he said.

Orland had a beer-tent noise problem, too, at festivals, said Orland town clerk Rhonda Engle. But that problem resolved itself after the town bought a noise meter to monitor it. A companion law in Orland not only addresses loud music that can be measured by the meter, but also loud TVs or other sound devices.

Power tools, including drills, sanders, snowblowers and lawn care tools also are addressed in Orland’s ordinance, and restricted between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Motor vehicles and loud engine brakes on trucks — known as “jakes” — aren’t welcome in Orland, either, and are restricted to 80 decibels or less in the corporate area. The town assesses cash penalties for violating its noise ordinance.

Kendallville occasionally fields barking dog complaints, according to police chief Rob Wiley. “But the majority of the complaints here come from the residential areas. The most prevalent complaint we have is loud music, although it’s not all kids with booming stereos.”

In Auburn, where the street fair, ACD Festival and several other community activities are livening up the town every few weeks or months, police work hard at maintaining a balance between what’s considered normal celebration and what’s too loud, said John Fetters, DeKalb Auditor.

“The city does have both a vehicle and a noise ordinance, though, with fines ranging from $50 for a first offense to $500 for a fourth offense,” Fetters said. “It’s up to the discretion of the officer going out on a call to determine what’s too loud, though.”

Be considerate

The bottom line is, whether you’re throwing a party over the weekend or thinking of racing all-terrain vehicles around your yard at 10 at night, the important thing is to be considerate of your neighbors, said Noble County Sheriff Gary Leatherman.

“What we do is send an officer out and ask (the offending party) to quiet it down. Hopefully, we can expect that they will do so. But if they don’t, we can charge them with disorderly conduct if they continue to do it after being asked to stop. And, yes, repeated (complaints) do mean something to us. And, we do consider the nature of the neighborhood, too.”

If you’re planning a party or some other activity that you know is going to be loud, the best thing to do is call on your neighbors and simply tell them what’s going on, Leatherman said, because generally, that’s all it takes to head-off a complaint, he said.

Just give them some advance notice, and the courtesy of telling them this is going to happen.²