Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Public safety

Rattled bay area residents hope noise bill brings quiet

TAMPA — It's a complaint Tampa police Officer Sean Mahabir hears as he patrols Ybor City.

"Hey, Sean," the conversation typically starts, "these cars are just ridiculous. They're driving through the neighborhood, booming music. My windows are shaking, my floors are rattling. I'm trying to sleep. Can't you do something about it?"

For the past two years, his answer has been, "No."

After a judge ruled Florida's stereo law unconstitutional, there has been nothing law enforcement can do to stop loud stereos.

Police Chief Jane Castor says it's one of the top complaints she hears. The topic comes up at almost every neighborhood meeting she attends.

"It's a quality of life issue," Castor said. "Obviously everybody has a right to listen to whatever type of music that they want, but when the volume is infringing on everyone else. …"

Tampa officials are working to improve the city's laws on stationary noise, such as music coming from a neighbor's stereo. But until the Florida Legislature remedies the state's unconstitutional law regarding car stereos, there's not much that can be done about loud vehicles.

So Castor and police chiefs across the state are supporting a bill that is making its way through the House and Senate. It removes the section stating that it is okay to blast certain types of noise, such as that for political purposes.

That section was the only part the Florida Supreme Court had a problem with, when it weighed in last December. The bill would simply change the problem part so the old law could be used again.

St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon said noise from car stereos is a chronic issue officers have to deal with. He recently traveled to Tallahassee as a member of the Florida Police Chiefs Association and said that he believes if the bill makes it to the floors of the Legislature, it will pass.

"This isn't really new law," he said. "It's just fixing the old one."

The old one was knocked down by St. Petersburg attorney Richard Catalano, who received a citation in 2007 for blaring a Justin Timberlake song in his car. He battled the case through the Florida court system, reaching a conclusion with the Florida Supreme Court's December decision, which declared the law unconstitutional because it made exceptions for political speech.

So far, the bill has been sailing through committees unopposed. On Monday, it was met favorably in the Senate's Criminal Justice Committee.

Only two of the six present voted against it. Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said she likes her music loud and doesn't think she should be ticketed.

Sen. Christopher Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said he is concerned that law enforcement could use it simply to pull someone over and look for other things.

"Traffic stops — that's where, for a lot my constituents, trouble begins," he said.

Gladys Jackson, 65, of Belmont Heights in Tampa, hopes the bill passes.

She says she is woken up most weekend nights by loud car stereos outside her apartment, north of Ybor City. About two months ago, the noise shook her walls so hard, a portrait of Jackson with her late husband fell from the wall above her as she slept.

She says she doesn't understand how those inside the cars can even enjoy their music at that volume.

"I don't want to hear it," she said. "My windows are rattling like we're having an earthquake."

She attended a Tampa City Council meeting last month to ask council members to do whatever they can to crack down on loud music. She told the council she understands that people have the right to enjoy music.

"But what about our rights?" she asked. "We have the right to lay down in bed, go to sleep and not be blown out of bed by the noise at 2 or 3 in the morning."

Times staff writer Kameel Stanley contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

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