ACLU opposes Rhode Island ordinance charging for loud parties

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 07, 2011 7:38 PM

(Reuters) - The American Civil Liberties Union said on Wednesday it will oppose a new ordinance allowing a Rhode Island town to charge the hosts of noisy house parties for the cost of sending police to investigate complaints.

Officials of Narragansett, Rhode Island, passed the ordinance on Monday, saying it was needed to deal with loud parties and neighborhood disturbances.

Many students at a nearby University of Rhode Island campus rent houses in Narragansett, and loud parties have long been a problem, Police Chief Dean Hoxsie said.

The ordinance follows two other laws that impose penalties for parties that exceed a certain decibel level and for second visits by police to houses they visited previously, he said.

"It's one more tool we have that hopefully will be a deterrent," Hoxsie said. "It's certainly not going to be a money maker for the community, and that wasn't the intention."

The cost of a visit by police officers in cruisers and sent to disperse a house party could be as high as $400, he said.

Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU's Rhode Island chapter, said the group opposed the "underlying premise that special costs should be imposed on town residents to pay the police for what they're getting paid to do in the first place."

Among the ACLU's concerns was that the ordinance may be used inappropriately in neighborhood disputes or could deter domestic violence victims and others from calling for fear they might get billed as a result, he said.

Once people start getting charged, the ACLU will likely become involved in challenging the ordinance legally, he said.

The ordinance, modeled after laws introduced in college towns in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and other states, is expected to be implemented in January.

(Reporting by Daniel Lovering in Cambridge, Massachusetts, editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Peter Bohan)