D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham has told a woman that it was wrong for an officer to arrest her after her neighbors in Chevy Chase complained that music from a party was too loud, the department confirmed Wednesday.
“It was inconsistent with his vision of community policing, and we probably could have handled the situation differently,” said Dustin Sternbeck, the department’s spokesman.
Police typically deal with violations of the noise ordinance by issuing criminal citations — similar to a traffic ticket — to alleged violators, requiring them to appear in court. Sternbeck said that Newsham plans to order that arrests can be made only with the approval of a supervisor who has the rank of a lieutenant or higher.
Police said that so far this year, officers across the District have arrested at least 37 people for allegedly violating the noise ordinance, which caps the level at 55 decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. in residential neighborhoods. That is roughly the equivalent of a conversation in a restaurant. Conviction is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and 10 days in jail.
The woman, C. Nicole Mason, was arrested the night of May 28, the Sunday before Memorial Day, after her neighbors in the Barnaby Woods subdivision in Northwest Washington complained of a loud DJ at a birthday party.
Mason, who filed a complaint against the department, said that she ordered a DJ to turn down the music within seven minutes of the officers’ arrival and that it had stopped before she was arrested. Sternbeck said the officer waited in his cruiser for 21 minutes after he issued the warning and that he made the arrest after seeing her standing on a patio with the music still loud enough to be heard from the street.
Sternbeck said the officer believed that an arrest was the only way to abate the issue given what he described as Mason’s initial refusal to turn the music down. Mason was taken to a police station, where she was photographed, fingerprinted and briefly put in a cell. She was then given a citation and released. The officer could have issued the citation at her home without jailing her at the station.
Mason, an African American author who speaks on television regularly, also argued that race played a role, both on the part of neighbors who complained and a white officer’s demeanor and decision to arrest her. He was accompanied by a black officer.
Sternbeck has denied that race played a factor in the call.
In emails, Mason said she was “pleased” with Newsham’s response and “his efforts to create protocols that reflect a desire to build communities where all residents feel safe and are treated fairly.”
She said that some of her neighbors have come to her defense and that one is throwing a block party on Saturday with a DJ. “Fortunately, it’ll be held from 2-10, before the ordinance kicks in,” she wrote.