Does that heavy-metal band in your neighbor's garage keep you up all night?
Call the Soundbusters, formally known as the Los Angeles Police Department Noise Enforcement Team.
It's an elite fleet of officers trained to find out if the noise that's bothering you is above the legal decibel limit--and authorized to pull the plug if the culprits won't quit.
"We don't handle barking dogs, loud parties or any kind of intermittent, occasional or spontaneous noise episodes," says Sgt. Ken Hillman, who's in charge of the 4-year-old four-member team.
What the team does handle is noise that is continuous, ongoing and/or comes from a fixed source: "Like the North Hollywood bakery that butts up against back yards of nice private homes," Hillman says. "It started as a small, family-owned, 9-to-5 operation that sold products locally. Then it was bought by a big corporation that started baking and shipping around the clock."
The neighborhood couldn't sleep. "Huge, 16-wheel trucks rolled up and down the streets; there was a constant clang of steel bakery trays being loaded on and off."
After negotiations between the enforcement team and the bakery, residents of the neighborhood once again sleep in peace.
When citizens said they couldn't deal with the nighttime noise from construction of Metro Rail, Hillman says, "We had to agree that the noise was out of hand. People really couldn't sleep and were experiencing psychological damage. So we were able to shut down nighttime construction, even though it was a multibillion-dollar project."
The newest ear- itation to hit L.A. is musical, Hillman says. "Homeowners are 'soundproofing' their garages and renting them out as practice rooms for bands. The neighbors go crazy because the soundproofing usually doesn't work, and the music is loud and long."
In these cases, a team member visits the complainant's house, measures the normal sound level and then measures again when the neighbor's music starts.
If the second reading is five decibels louder than the first, the officer issues a warning to the band. If the band plays on, it gets a $500 citation. If it continues after that, the penalty goes up to $1,500, and all equipment that is making the noise is confiscated.
The squad also gets calls about trash trucks, which Hillman says are noisy enough to wake sound sleepers and set off car alarms.
"Those trucks are not supposed to collect in residential areas before 6 a.m. or after 9 p.m.," Hillman says. "But some guys hate to fight traffic, so they like to pick up the trash at night."
Here, too, the enforcers try to quickly prevail. If the drivers do the wrong thing more than twice, "the fine goes up to $2,700 and we confiscate the truck."
"We're only four men trying to protect a city of 4 million, so our waiting list of people who need help is long," Hillman says.
"We don't have time to waste, and we don't want to spend time going after the same person more than once. Fines mean nothing to some of these big companies--but if we confiscate their equipment, they can't operate."