BEVERLY — City officials are considering tough new rules that would allow police to fine loud partyers, confiscate their boomboxes and even send their landlords to jail.
The proposed changes are in response to an increasing number of complaints from residents about noise caused primarily by college students living off campus, Ward 4 City Councilor Kevin Hobin said.
"I don't want to target students, but that's been the majority of the complaints," he said.
Hobin, who has proposed the changes along with Ward 6 Councilor Judith Cronin, said more students are living off campus since colleges began cracking down on drinking. The weak economy may also be contributing to the problem, he said. Students can save money by sharing an apartment, and landlords are anxious to fill their rental units, Hobin said.
The proposed rules, which must be approved by the City Council, would impose fines of $100 for a first and second offense, and $150 for subsequent offenses for anyone who plays music, a radio, a television or a musical instrument "at a volume as to disturb the quiet, comfort or repose of neighboring inhabitants."
Police would also be allowed to confiscate boomboxes or other devices installed in cars or carried in public if they are being played too loudly.
If one property becomes a regular party house, police will send the landlord a letter threatening to fine him up to $200 and throw him in jail for up to six months.
Police Chief Mark Ray said the new rules would give police the ability to decide what constitutes a loud party.
The current rules require the Health Department to measure the decibel level, a practice that is so time-consuming police rarely use it.
"Now, we can go down and make a reasonable judgment," Ray said. "Hopefully, it stops with a fine. It sends a strong message to people who repeatedly cause problems."
The proposed ordinance is modeled after rules adopted by Salem two years ago. Beverly officials met recently with Salem police Sgt. Harry Rocheville and Officer Dennis King and Salem City Councilor Joe O'Keefe to discuss strategies.
O'Keefe said Salem hasn't issued many fines, but the mere threat of a financial penalty serves as a deterrent.
"Especially in this economy," he said. "How can college kids or their parents get up the money to bail them out of jail or pay the fine? I think we scare them. Our Police Department doesn't fool around."
O'Keefe said Salem officials work closely with Salem State College on students who repeatedly cause problems.
"It's effective if the colleges participate," he said.
Ray said the Beverly colleges, which include Endicott College and Montserrat College of Art, have been "very cooperative" in dealing with the problem.
Matt Atkinson, a 21-year-old Endicott College senior from Connecticut who lives off campus, said he understands why the city wants to get tougher on loud parties, especially if they lead to drunken driving.
"I feel like when you're off campus, you're not dealing with Endicott College security or Gordon College security or Salem State security, you're dealing with the police," he said. "I think people have more responsibility when living off campus."
Atkinson lives with a roommate in an apartment above Harry's Pizza in Beverly Farms, and there are two other friends in an apartment across the hall. He said one neighbor complained that his dog was too loud, but otherwise the college students and the locals get along fine.
"Most of my neighbors, even the older ones, will come over and hang out and have a drink or two," he said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.