MPD policy “unconstitutional”

September 20, 2007

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union said the Metropolitan Police Department’s alleged arrest policy for parties is unconstitutional. Students residing in Burleith claimed that MPD officers, including 2nd District Commander Andy Solberg, threatened to arrest all residents if their house received one more noise complaint.

Arthur Spitzer, the Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that the policy the student described is unconstitutional unless the police officer has probable cause that everybody in the house was making the noise.

“If the police officer arrested everyone in the house and didn’t have evidence that each person was breaking the law, those are false arrests,” Spitzer said.

“They can come and talk to me when they get locked up,” Solberg said when asked about the constitutionality of the policy.

Solberg said that according to the policy, any noise that can be heard from the sidewalk is too loud. Despite complaints about the severity of the rule, MPD insists it is in accordance with the Noise Ordinance Law.

Solberg further explained that if someone is talking on the phone from the patio and their conversation is audible from the sidewalk, they are violating the law. Rick Powell, the Political and Legislation Coordinator from the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, called this aspect of the policy ridiculous.

“Even if someone can hear you from the sidewalk, it has to fall within the noise control law,” he said.

Solberg clarified his policy, saying that the hosts, not everyone on the lease, would immediately be arrested.

“If the host is in his or her room sleeping, they’re going to be arrested because they are responsible for the noise being made,” Solberg said.

A longstanding but only recently publicized MPD policy is to keep a list of “problem houses.” Solberg said the MPD compiles this list based on which houses repeatedly receive complaints.

Burleith Citizens Association President Lenore Rubino would not comment on the list or the policy, saying it was beside the point.

“I put a challenge to the students to work together with their community, and then they’ll see a change,” Rubino said.

However, a letter written Tuesday by the Board of the Burleith Citizens Association suggests that the BCA is aware of Solberg’s actions to decrease the noise level.

“There has been an increase in noise and disorderly conduct, and Cdr. Solberg has taken the appropriate action. The letter said the board [of the Burleith Citizens Association] commends him for his decisiveness and willingness to address these issues.”

Chuck VanSant, the Director of Off-Campus Student Life, said that instead of complaining, students should be examining their behavior.

“I’ve lived here for five years,” VanSant said. “By law I have a right to live in peace and quiet. If that’s infringed upon, that’s a crime.”

Many residents from the houses on Solberg’s list say that they do not belong there.

“If they’re not the violators there would be no problems,” MPD Lieutenant Felicia Lucas, the officer in charge of Georgetown’s Police Service Area, said.

—Additional reporting by Crystal Chung

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