Jun 29, 2022 - News

Mayor's proposed noise rules target abortion protests

Photo illustration of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney with lines radiating from him.
Photo Illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Mayor Levar Stoney is proposing a new city noise ordinance that, among other things, would allow police to crack down on loud protests outside clinics that provide abortions.

Why it matters: The city fielded more than 2,000 noise complaints last year, but officials say the cases rarely lead to prosecution because the city's current noise ordinance is difficult to enforce.

  • The rewritten ordinance would downgrade offenses from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil penalty, allowing officers to write tickets on the spot.
  • It includes specific provisions targeting noises around health clinics as long as they post signs that read, "Health Care Facility Quiet Zone."

What they're saying: City officials are not shy about the fact that the measure is aimed in part at protesters who make noise around clinics that provide abortions.

  • "It's been a real issue of harassment around our clinics in the city, to the point where I got constituent complaints repeatedly from neighbors blocks away from clinics about really abhorrent, amplified harassment," Councilmember Katherine Jordan said at a press conference with Stoney on Tuesday.

Details: In addition to clinics, the proposed ordinance applies to homes, apartments, schools and places of worship.

  • It sets a daytime noise threshold (7am-11pm) of 65 decibels and a nighttime threshold of 55 decibels.
  • Police could take the measurement from any place on the property of the person making the complaint, except in the case of apartments, where it would be measured from inside a unit with all doors and windows closed.
  • Penalties would start at $50 for the first violation, escalating to as high as $500 every hour the noise persists for repeat violators.

Context: Normal conversations typically measure between 50 and 60 decibels, according to OSHA. Vacuum cleaners and hair dryers typically register at 70.

Restaurants would get slightly more leeway as long as they're not in residential areas, with daytime noise caps of 80 decibels and nighttime caps of 75.

Of note: Deputy police chief Victoria Pearson tells Axios she believes the ordinance would survive any constitutional challenges because it's content neutral.

  • Asked about noise during the 2020 social justice protests, Stoney said, "This is the sort of tool that we wish we had had."

What's next: Stoney said he expects the city council to take up the ordinance in July.

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