Baton Rouge councilwoman targets racial equity with new city ordinance

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BATON ROUGE, La. (NBC Local 33) (FOX 44) — Baton Rouge Metro councilwoman Erika Green says she wants a parish noise ordinance amended because it is being used by police to discriminate against the local African-American community.

The idea for a newly proposed ordinance stems from the efforts of the Southern Poverty Law Center. SPLC is a non-profit organization that works toward equality for vulnerable populations, according to their website.

In a letter dated June 20 to Baton Rouge Metro Council, SPLC requests that two parish ordinances addressing loud noise as a nuisance be amended.

First, East Baton Rouge Parish Ordinance 12:101(3) which states that certain noise is a disruption to the public’s right to peace.

The playing of any radio, phonograph, tape, compact disc, musical instrument or any other machine or device capable of producing or reproducing sound, from a vehicle in such a manner, or with such volume, as to disturb the peace, quiet, comfort, or repose of persons in any dwelling, apartment, hotel, or other type of residence; of persons in any other vehicle; or of persons in any public place.

East Baton Rouge Parish Ordinance 12:101(3)

The punishment for violating the above-mentioned ordinance carries a penalty as outlined in Ordinance 12:104.

Any person violating any of the provisions of this chapter shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be fined not less than two hundred dollars ($200.00) nor more than five hundred dollars ($500.00), or not more than thirty (30) days in jail, or both, at the discretion of the judge.

East Baton Rouge Parish Ordinance 12:104

“It is too harsh for what is considered a nuisance ordinance,” said Green.

The SPLC argues that because the state of Louisiana has pre-existing laws relating to the same matter, the city is exceeding its legal authority. In other words, the East Baton Rouge parish ordinances are preempted by state law, and are therefore unconstitutional.

In contrast, Louisiana Revised Statute 14:103.1 addresses noise as a nuisance by stating that the noise must be audible at a distance of greater than 25 feet, which exceeds 85 decibels.

Additionally, the state has outlined a less harsh punishment than the parish, with a fine between $200-$300 for a first offense and no more than $500 for subsequent offenses. Also, upon conviction of subsequent offenses, the court may order the individual to surrender his/her license for no more than 30 days.

In the letter, SPLC goes even further to say the parish noise ordinances are being used by the Baton Rouge Police Department to unfairly target “communities of color.” SPLC refers to a 2018 report concerning racial profiling in Louisiana. “The report contained information demonstrating a significant disparity in Baton Rouge’s enforcement of the Loud Music Ordinances,” reads the letter.

“If loud music or loud noise is an issue, we want to make sure that that is addressed and (they’re) held accountable,” said Green, “but, we do not want it to be an issue that is only addressed in certain communities.”

According to SPLC findings, the BRPD recorded 98 stops between Dec. 14, 2015 and June 10, 2018 under Baton Rouge Ordinance 12:101(3).

  • In 46 of the stops, the only offense the motorist was alleged to have committed was playing loud music from a vehicle.
  • In 86 of the 92 stops where demographic information was available, the alleged offender was an African-American male.

“(Law enforcement) had no standard before and no way of determining if (the ordinance) was violated, which lended this law to be exercised improperly,” Green told NBC Local 33.

SPLC findings say that online BRPD records indicate 1,670 stops were made under the ordinance between Jan. 1, 2011 and August 26, 2018. In contrast, BRPD has never recorded any stops under Ordinance 12:101(5), which makes it a misdemeanor to use a vehicle “so out of repair or so loaded, which emits or creates loud grating, grinding, or rattling noise.”

Furthermore, the SPLC report refers to a series of maps which demonstrate the locations of the stops by BRPD and how they relate to the areas of the parish that are primarily inhabited by African-Americans.

Credit: SPLC

In Green’s proposed ordinance, BRPD would be equipped with a decibel meter to gauge exactly how loud emanating noise is prior to making a traffic stop. Green is also requesting that penalties for violations be reduced.

“We now have a standard and a requirement to measure the crime,” said Green.

BRPD spokesperson L’Jean McKneely said the department would like to outfit its nearly 700 officers with sound level meters, however funding is of first concern.

Green plans to introduce her amended proposal at the Baton Rouge Metro Council meeting on Sept. 25. The measure would still need to be made available for public comment, as well as voted on and approved by council.

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