New York Noise Cops Monitor City Sounds
Inspectors from Bureau of Air Resources respond to complaints and impose fines in the effort to control decibel levels. LOUD NOT ALLOWED
IT'S pretty quiet on 42nd Street tonight. Car horns mainly, and buses that rumble and belch. Not long ago, working this strip was like shooting fish in a barrel. Every boom-box store and peep show had a loudspeaker blaring out at the sidewalk. A noise inspector could write up 10 violations a night, easy.Skip to next paragraph
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The crackdown has had an effect, however. Tonight the street hustlers and movie marquees seem like images on a TV screen with the sound turned down.
Jerry Dimitriou, an inspector for New York City's Bureau of Air Resources, pulls over to the curb anyway. Nothing on the schedule until 9 tonight, so they might as well walk the beat for the while. Sure enough, a boom-box store called California Electronics has a big loudspeaker working just inside the door, to lure some sidewalk traffic. It's pretty tame by previous Times Square standards. But the law says no noise on the sidewalk, period.
Jerry and Dennis O'Conner, his partner, go in and issue the violation. They are both short, even-tempered men who wear zip-up jackets. Tonight their supervisor, Steve O'Connell, is with them to accompany a reporter.
``Give us a break,'' says a man behind the counter at California Electronics. The fine will be at least $440, and he is a little perturbed. ``You need something - a radio - a little later, we take care of you.'' His younger colleague is less inclined to kowtow. ``They have to make their salaries,'' he sneers, as the three men leave.
Another night on the New York City noise patrol. Noise is one of America's most persistent forms of pollution. In New York, it tends to come from music bars and construction sites and rooftop ventilation units. There are thousands of these, and every evening, from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., Jerry and Dennis and one other team cruise the city's five boroughs, trying to keep the decibel level in check. (Thirty-two inspectors work the day shift.)
The inspectors also enforce the city's clean air laws, including restaurant fumes and the like. Mostly, they respond to complaints to the city's 24-hour hotline. There are more than 400 such complaints in a typical month. The inspectors look into three or four complaints per night. They don't get involved in boom boxes, noisy crowds, and the like. ``We are very happy to defer that to the police department,'' says Jerry Ross, the bureau's director of enforcement.
Right now Steve and crew are parked on Seventh Avenue, around the corner from California Electronics. Dennis is the designated paperwork man for the evening, and he's writing up the violation. Each stop requires 15 to 20 minutes worth of paperwork, and there's a car report at the end of the evening. ``I hate that, `You gotta make your salary,''' Steve says, still burning over the clerk's remark.
The first scheduled stop tonight is in a gloomy warehouse district just south of Canal Street, called Tribeca. The area has been sprouting condos and yuppie restaurants, and one such establishment, called Walker's, is bothering neighbors with kitchen fumes. It has already been fined for noise from the ventilation unit. The inspectors seem to show a little extra interest in repeat offenders like this.
They trudge up several flights of an old tenement building next door. No question. The place smells as though the kitchen vent was right outside the window. The resident is an artist, and he's understandably upset. How many times is he going to have to complain before Walker's finally shapes up, he asks.
The inspectors shoulder their way through the crowded restaurant to see the owner. The problem turns out to be a leaky stack, the duct that carries fumes up to roof level. The owner, who is trying hard to stay cool, claims he didn't known about the leak. Couldn't he just get a warning?