The city of Schenectady has plenty of things to occupy a police officer’s time.
Shootings. Robberies. Drug activity. Theft. Domestic violence. Gangs. Vandalism. Traffic control. Crime prevention. Community engagement.
But it doesn’t have the financial resources to put enough police officers on the street to be 100-percent effective in addressing all of these issues.
So while it would be ideal if the city could have one police officer dedicated solely to enforcing the city’s noise ordinances, there are simply too many other unmet needs for the city to consider Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas proposal for such a position.
Noise from car stereos, bars, house parties, motorcycles and ATVs, barking dogs, cars with broken mufflers and construction can certainly negatively impact the quality of life for city residents.
The city certainly has enough noise complaints to keep a single police officer busy.
And if enough businesses and motorists are issued tickets, the city might be able to offset some of the cost of the position.
But there are pitfalls to having such a position. One is that the officer will have to have a car. Another is that the officer won’t be able to be on-duty 24/7. Would this be a night position only? What about holidays?
Would other officers have to pick up the slack when this officer isn’t on duty?
Another issue: Exactly how would one person be able to cover all the calls? Let’s not even talk about 4th of July, when the full police contingent scrambles from complaint to complaint for several nights, only to often find the offender has moved on.
A noise officer would have to be in 10 places at once on the off-chance he or she might actually catch up with an ATV or a loud muffler or a booming stereo.
Sure, the noise officer can crack down on loud bars and parties. But first-time offenders would likely get a warning, generating no revenue. And other police and code officers can address repeat violators.
This all doesn’t mean that police shouldn’t enforce noise ordinances. But one dedicated officer isn’t the answer.
Instead, Police Chief Eric Clifford and the city attorney could provide a refresher course to officers on the city’s noise ordinances. And Clifford could give his neighborhood patrol officers a directive to issue noise-related citations and respond proactively to complaints while doing other tasks.
City officials could discourage violations by upping the penalties for excessive noise and educating city residents about the law.
City police officers could then carry out their regular activities while also helping keep the peace in the city, without jeopardizing law enforcement or public safety.
In an ideal world, every city could afford a police officer dedicated solely to quality-of-life complaints like excessive noise.
But in the real world of Schenectady, that’s simply not possible given the police department’s many other priorities.