The price of being loud

Apr 252004
Authors: Christopher Ortiz

People hate when prices go up. Listen to the complaints about

gas prices going up 20 percent or about CSU parking permit prices

going up next year. While filling up your tank and looking for a

spot might cost you a few more bucks, that is nothing compared to

how much a noise violation fine will hit your wallet.

The city of Fort Collins has increased the fine for unreasonable

noise violations from $200 to a whoppin’ $1,000. No that is not a

typo: That is a 500 percent increase.

Apparently, fighting noise in Fort Collins is starting to cost


According to Lt. Jim Szakmeister of Fort Collins Police

Services, the increase is in response to the overriding view of

City Council that noise nuisance significantly decreases the

quality of life in the city.

People who have the cops called on them are not going to get a

grand fine. The fine can be dropped based on how cooperative the

violators are with the police, how many offenses the noise

polluters have, how out of the control the party is, among other

things. FCPS calls it cooperative impact. But still, the standing

fine rate is $1,000.

Get this: the fine of a DUI – $1,000. From this perspective, the

city regards drinking and driving and having a loud party as the

same level of offensiveness. Absurd.

But the sketchiest thing about this is that the city does not

define what is unreasonable. While cities like Denver have a

decibel level to determine what is unreasonable, the wonderful city

of Fort Collins leaves it up to the responding police officers to

deem what is unreasonable and what isn’t.

While one officer might feel a boombox on the back porch on a

Saturday night is a noise nuisance and will stick someone with a

$1,000 fine, another officer might let someone off who has a live

band playing on the front lawn on Sunday night.

When laws and city codes are subjective they become unfair and


Szakmeister said that a few people cause the problem that makes

this kind of response necessary. He also wants to ensure that this

enforcement is not singling out students but anyone who violates

the city code.

With classes winding down and as people start planning their

graduation parties, they should know that the noise they produce

can cost them a lot more than they think.

In an internal e-mail between city employees I have obtained

about the fine, it states:

“When enforcing a loud party violation or any other noise

violation, it is important that officers not set expectations to

the violators of what will happen in court. Please do not mention

fines to the violators. If a violator asks about the fine, you can

tell them that it is now $1,000. HOWEVER (sic), if they are

cooperative, you can tell them that you will pass this on to the

prosecutor for consideration of a lighter fine. The prosecutors ask

that you DO NOT (sic) mention anything else about the fine.”

The new policy is unfair in a number of ways. First, I don’t

feel the city is not working hard enough to make the fine increase

public. If the city is going to bump the price by $800, fine, there

isn’t much the public can do, but the city owes it to people to

make them aware of the huge increase.

Secondly, the city needs to come up with a legal definition of

what is unreasonable. Leaving it up to the individual responding

police officers is unfair and subjective. What other city codes and

laws allow police to determine when a nuisance has occurred?

Thirdly, it is not like parties have become an epidemic in the

city. Szakmeister said calls responding to parties in the last

three years have decreased while enforcement has gone up. Instead

of City Council caving in to a few disgruntled citizens complaining

about some punks blasting 50 Cent on Friday night, maybe the

council should focus on the alarmingly increasing drug trade in

Fort Collins or violent attacks at parties. Those are things that

significantly decrease the quality of life in the city.

Chris is the opinion editor for the Collegian.

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