Brief Background

I live in a small community with a growing noise problem due to vehicles with custom exhaust systems. To more clearly define the issue I have been collecting data from calibrated decibel loggers placed outside and inside homes along different neighborhood streets. I also launched a survey (peer-reviewed to ensure that it is unbiased) on SurveyMonkey. This was launched two weeks ago and to-date it has received 500 responses. An invitation to local Home Owners Associations to have members take the brief survey will go out next week.

Our community of 15 square miles is allocated one officer from the County Sheriff's Department. Noise complaints made to the Sheriff's Office are pretty much ignored.

Noise Levels from Custom Exhaust Systems

If the same noise events due to custom exhaust systems on some streets occurred at a work place, this would literally raise red flags with OSHA. For example, on a regular basis, noise levels registering 120 dB or higher are measured at distances of 140 feet or more for periods of 15 minutes or more.

Retaliatory Behavior

Warnings issued by apartment managers to drivers of loud vehicles often trigger retaliatory drive byes against the apartment complex. These typically start within one hour of the warning. Over the next five the seven days, the count of noise measurements higher than three sigma decibels higher than the average background noise for the street, more than doubles. (Typically 99.7% of all noise measurements for a given street will fall below the average plus three sigma decibels. The measure being used is the count of noise readings higher than 99.7% of typical noise measurements for a given street.)

Survey Results (thus far)

After approximately two weeks there have been 500 responses to the survey. Barking dogs are the number 1 source of noise with vehicles with custom exhaust systems and stereos as number 2. (Dogs were number 1 in surveys performed by the US EPA in the 70s and 80s). The top noise sources as of today are:

1 Animals (barking dogs, cockerel)

2 Vehicular noise (custom exhausts, stereos)

3 Highway noise

4 Aircraft

5 DIY (power tools, hammering)

6 Household activities (stereos, parties)

7 Commercial/Utility/Emergency Vehicles

8 Trains

Vehicular exhaust and custom stereo noise was lower in similar polls conducted by US EPA in the 70s and 80s (prior to the de-funding of ONAC).

Impact on Property Values and Ability to Sell Real-estate

As one realtor put it, noise is a raw real-estate nerve. Data from sources such as Zillow-Research show that a single family home in a noisy neighborhood will take 3 to 4 months longer to sell than an equivalent home in a quiet neighborhood. Homes in noisy neighborhoods will typically sell for 10% to 15% less than homes in quiet neighborhoods. The same results have been reported by studies conducted by Booz-Allen-Hamiltor in the United States (1994 - homes near airports) and the Swedish Government. Recorded noise levels in some neighborhoods match noise levels reported near large airports.

Absence of Legal Recourse

Our County Law Director insists that probable cause can only be established by a law enforcement officer. I proposed that citizens should be able to submit actionable complaints using three forms: (1) A screening form that is scored to determine if the complaint is legitimate or not (2) The same form filled out by law enforcement officers and (3) a notarized form that acknowledges the consequences of filing a false report. This was rejected due to concerns on workload.

Neighborhoods that have genuine noise concerns essentially have no effective legal recourse. Fines imposed by a General Sessions court will only encourage retaliation.

Retaliation by Law Enforcement

On more than one occasion, reports made to local law enforcement and local government have been met with retaliatory drive-byes by officers on motorcycles. This typically occurs between 1:30 AM and 2:30 AM following a complaint. The pattern (and this in on video) is an officer pulls close to the home and revs his bike as loud as he can under the nearest window of the person who filed the complaint. The officer then makes a very loud and high speed pass through the neighborhood, returns the spot under the window and revs his bike as loud as he can. This is typically repeated three or more times. Complaints and videos sent to our county law director generate no response what-so-ever.

Who does one talk to when a law enforcement officer is the problem? Who does one talk to when local government does not respond to complaints about a law enforcement officer?

2 Answers 2


You need is a legal basis for a (legal) complaint. OSHA regulations are set by the federal government, which gets its regulatory power via an interaction between politics, Congress, and the Commerce Clause: OSHA regulations don't apply to your neighborhood. There are often local noise ordinances that restrict noise. I can look up the numbers for my county, which are in a 4x4 table (source vs. destination, 4 zoning classes), and the ordinance describes the required sampling details in engineering-grade detail. (Best to read the whole ordinance to be sure there aren't specific exceptions, such as the bell exception -- bells are apparently unregulated). The ordinance will probably say something about enforcement, e.g.

The sheriff may administer and enforce this chapter and any rules and regulations adopted or authorized by this chapter in accordance with state law. The director may enforce this chapter and any rules and regulations adopted or authorized by this chapter in accordance with K.C.C. Title 23 and state law. Upon request by the sheriff or director, any other county departments and divisions may assist in enforcing this chapter.

I note that this says "may", not "shall". Assuming that you have such ordinances, that the noise unquestionably violates the ordinances, and the enforcer refuses to enforce, then you would need to either (a) vote the sheriff out of office or (b) file a suit to compel enforcement of the ordinance. You could sue seeking a writ of mandamus. At this point you would be hiring an attorney, where questions would arise such as whether you have the legal right to compel action, is the sheriff obligated to enforce the ordinance, and so on (can you show that? I don't mean, is there a good reason, I mean in a technical legal sense). The answers reside in your state's case law and ordinances.

It is possible that your state Attorney General would pursue the sheriff, since what you describe seems like a blatant violation of the law (retaliations especially). Another possibility would be a federal Civil Rights lawsuit. Political solutions (shaming the sheriff) might be more effective.

  • Thank you very much for the good advice. I would rather not use a "shame the Sheriff" approach if possible (because limited resources that set the number of available officers is partly to blame). The officer who is using his patrol bike to retaliate (Retaliation by Law Enforcement) against individuals filing complaints is another matter. Nov 3, 2016 at 18:53

Enforcement of noise violations are typically always handled at the local level. So the answer to your question is, "It depends on the bylaws in your municipality."

That being said, if your municipality does not have a sufficient noise bylaw, or if the bylaw is not being enforced, then the proper course of action is to either appeal you your municipal council, or petition your council.

Where I'm from, if a sufficient petition is presented to Council on a specific matter, the Council is required by provincial legislation to hold a meeting of Council on the matter within 30 days of receiving the petition. There may be something similar where you are.

An appeal is usually sufficient, talk to your town/city manager about presenting to your Council as a delegation, bring all of your collected data/video of violators as well as an ask for stricter enforcement.

If the enforcement officer is in violation of the law, then he must be held accountable by his authorities. File a complaint with the local authority by sending a letter to your council, or the commission your law enforcement officer works for.

  • Thank you for your input - very useful to me. I have e-mailed our County Law Director the complaint and heard nothing. As this officer is continuing to do this, I will follow up with our town council and city manager. Nov 3, 2016 at 18:57

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