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Brooksville police chief has to revamp idea to impound cars for noise violations

BROOKSVILLE — Brooksville police Chief George Turner readily admits that he might have been reaching a little too high when he proposed an ordinance calling for the immediate impoundment of any vehicle found in violation of the city's noise ordinance or illegally parked in a handicapped zone.

It sounded like a good idea at the time. He had crafted the law after a similar zero-tolerance ordinance passed last year in Sarasota that in six months resulted in the seizure of 11 vehicles and the issuance of 60 citations.

But when Turner presented Ordinance 774 for discussion to the City Council at its May 18 meeting, he got an earful.

Council member David Pugh said he occasionally listens to his amped-up stereo while driving down the highway and wondered what would happen if he wasn't quick enough to turn down the volume when he saw a police officer within the designated 25-foot limit imposed by the law.

"Getting my car towed for that," Pugh told the council, "it's a bit extreme."

Mayor Joe Bernardini thought the ordinance was vague and misleading.

Though council members agreed that tougher measures were needed to quell the growing number of loud music complaints, they ultimately balked at the idea of seizing the vehicles of first-time offenders.

Turner said he was in 100 percent agreement.

"They were right," Turner said. "It wasn't our intention to take away someone's car for making a mistake. It was to address the stereos that are so loud that it disturbs people a block away."

Turner will return to the council Monday with a revamped version of the vehicle impound ordinance that provides for warnings for first-time offenders. After that however, things can get expensive.

The ordinance calls for the towing of a vehicle found violating the city's code prohibiting loud music. To get the vehicle back, the owner would have five days to request a preliminary hearing before a master. A city representative would be appointed to determine whether there was a legitimate reason to seize the car.

If the master decides there was probable cause, or the hearing is waived, then the car would stay impounded until the case is resolved. However, the owner gets the option of posting a cash bond to release the car until a final disposition is reached.

A final hearing before the master would decide the ultimate outcome. If the master sides with the police, the car would remain impounded until the civil penalty is paid. If the car owner wins, he would get the car back and wouldn't have to pay any fees associated with the vehicle's seizure.

Turner said the proposed ordinance would give teeth to a 2006 ordinance prohibiting the playing music that is audible 25 feet from a vehicle. Though similar to the state's statute on loud car music, the Brooksville ordinance allowed for a first-offense warning. A subsequent offense could earn the car owner a $250 fine; the next offense, $500.

Turner said that as well-meaning as it was, the ordinance was simply unenforceable. He had neither the manpower nor a workable system that could keep track of offenders.

"We have between 30 and 40 citations that were issued that were never paid," he said. "People just blew it off."

Turner is betting that with the new ordinance there will be no second-time offenders.

"You would hope that they get the message by then," he said. "But if they want to go on doing it, it's going to cost them."

Turner said he is targeting "boom box" cars that are the source of the majority of the complaints. Loud motorcycles and mufflers don't fall under any specific noise ordinance.

Repeat violators of the city's handicapped parking laws will also face impoundment. However, Turner said drivers who simply forgot to post their placards would be excused once they proved they had them.

Turner also plans implement a database system to keep track of violators. In addition, special details may be set up to monitor for potential offenders of the ordinance.

Turner said that offenders who are also found to be involved in criminal activity such as drug selling and soliciting prostitutes would face immediate vehicle seizure.

City Council member Lara Bradburn said that she is glad to see the city finally getting serious when it comes to loud car stereos.

"These people have had it their way for too long, and the citizens are tired of it." Bradburn said. "An ordinance like this is going to have overwhelming public support."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1435.

Brooksville police chief has to revamp idea to impound cars for noise violations 05/29/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 29, 2009 6:26pm]

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