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Woodburn Police Chief clears up any ambiguities surrounding noise issues and the law

There seems to be a lot of "noise" around town about nuisance issues. I hope to clarify some information floating out there with this Op-ed.

The City of Woodburn, like most Oregon cities, has ordinances governing three areas of neighborhood livability. One is Ordinance 2312 "Noise Regulation;" another is Ordinance 2338 "Nuisances;" the third is Ordinance 2136 "Chronic Nuisance Property." These ordinances are often confused with each other and titles and meaning are often incorrectly referenced.

Noise issues are a concern in any neighborhood, which is why most municipalities have ordinances governing loud or unreasonable noise, so as not to negatively affect livability.

WOODBURN INDEPENDENT FILE PHOTO - Jim FerrarisNoise complaints are often difficult to resolve. Many times, the source of the noise isn't audible upon the police officer's arrival on a call, or the noise isn't detectable to a degree necessary for enforcement based upon decibels as recorded by an officer on a sound decibel meter.

The city administrator with the city attorney, in partnership with my office, recently introduced amendments of City Ordinance 2312 "Noise Regulation" to the Woodburn city council for consideration. These amendments strengthen the current noise ordinance, both legally and operationally, giving the police and community more tools to address loud or unreasonable noise.

At their Feb. 25 meeting, the city council adopted amendments that allow for enforcement with and without a sound decibel reading. When the noise cannot be heard or registered on the sound decibel meter by the responding officer, the amendments, under certain conditions, allow for a complainant to certify by signature and under potential penalty for false certification, with a commitment to testify in municipal court if necessary how the ordinance was violated.

Once our police officers receive training on application and enforcement of the new ordinance and it is finally approved by the Mayor, it will be an available tool for use in our community. I encourage interested people to read the amended ordinance once posted on the city's website (ci.woodburn.or.us).

Now, regarding nuisances, the city's Nuisance Ordinance 2338 is often confused with the city's Chronic Nuisance Property Ordinance 2136. Under the Chronic Nuisance Property procedure, the City must convince the Marion County Circuit Court that private property should be closed because of three convictions involving unlawful conduct occurring on the property within 60 days. In contrast, the Nuisance Ordinance, has more general applicability and is enforced by the city to address specified conditions on real property (i.e., trash, junked vehicles, dangerous trees, etc.). Cases based on the Nuisance Ordinance are decided by the Woodburn Municipal Court and violators are assessed fines.

Woodburn City Ordinance 2136, while quite complex, is designed to address problem locations meeting the definition of Chronic Nuisance Properties, patterned after similar ordinances in cities such as Beaverton and Portland. Unlike most ordinances, a Chronic Nuisance Property Ordinance requires the City to file and prevail in an Oregon Circuit Court lawsuit to actually enforce the ordinance. This is because the enforcement involves the forced closure of private property and these property rights are protected by the Oregon and U.S. Constitutions.

Application of a chronic nuisance ordinance can be challenging at best. In Woodburn, it would require a finding by the Marion County Circuit Court that three specified offenses ("predicate offenses") related to the nuisance property were committed within 60 days In other words, there must be an objective basis to believe that certain crimes or offenses were committed and that persons connected to the property committed such crimes or offenses. As a result, most locations that community members believe are "chronic nuisance properties" cannot meet the legal standards of proof required by the Circuit Court Judge under Ordinance 2136 and the Oregon and U.S. Constitutions.

Neighborhood livability complaints, including those about noise and nuisances occurring within the Woodburn city limits, should be reported by calling the Woodburn Police non-emergency number 503-982-2345. Such complaints are handled by our police and community service officers on a priority basis, so pending emergency calls of a higher priority may take precedence over the order your call for service may be handled.

Jim Ferraris is the Chief of Police at Woodburn Police Department. He can be reached at 503-982-2345 or by email at:

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