The growing number of noise complaints related to nightlife establishments in New York City highlights the need for the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) and the New York City Police Department (NYPD) to better communicate and crack down on bars and clubs with persistent noise problems, according to an audit released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
"The number of noise complaints in New York City more than doubled between 2010 and 2015, including tens of thousands involving nightlife, but my auditors found limited communication between the SLA and NYPD to address the grievances," DiNapoli said. "Establishments with hundreds of complaints lodged against them faced little or no repercussions. For the sake of city residents, more action must be taken to address noisy clubs and bars. We commend the NYPD for acknowledging the problem and taking steps to improve their response."
DiNapoli's auditors found the number of noise complaints called in to the city's 311 system rose from 86,365 in 2010 to 179,394 in 2015. Over the same period, the annual number of noise complaints involving nightlife establishments increased from 38,401 to 93,412. The NYPD and the SLA are responsible for responding to noise complaints stemming from nightlife establishments. Auditors determined that 277 locations had 100 or more complaints lodged against them.
Auditors examined the 30 locations with liquor licenses that generated the most noise complaints between Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2015. The total number of noise-related complaints from these 30 locations during that period was 13,432.
DiNapoli's auditors reviewed data from SLA's files for the 30 sampled establishments to determine the actions taken by the agency to address the complaints lodged against those clubs. Of 141 cases filed with SLA against these nightclubs, a total of 32 with a noise component were opened, investigated, or prosecuted by the SLA between 2010 and 2015. The resolutions of 10 of the 32 cases were noted as "Insufficient Resources." According to the SLA, when a complaint was not considered a high priority, a previous SLA director would routinely close the case without any action taken, citing a lack of available staff. SLA officials said this practice has since been discontinued and all open cases are now reviewed to ensure that appropriate action is taken.
Still, the SLA opened relatively few cases between 2010 and 2015 for the 30 establishments, despite more than 13,000 noise complaints lodged against those clubs through the 311 system. By not accessing readily available 311 data, the SLA limited its use of data relevant to noise problems in NYC. As such, there was substantial risk that serious noise violations, if not brought directly to the attention of the SLA, were not adequately addressed.
For example, a detailed review of the complaint history for a Manhattan location showed that, of the 1,350 noise complaints received (in 2014 and 2015), 243 and 346 of the complaints were filed in November and December 2015, respectively. On two days in December 2015 alone (the 7th and the 21st), there were 78 and 68 complaints filed, respectively. In total, there were 828 complaints for this address for the three-month period. For 704 of these 828 complaints, the NYPD either determined that police action was not necessary or there was no evidence of any violations. For 119 complaints there was an indication that police determined that police action was necessary and took corrective action.
While the aforementioned location was a focal point of police attention, pertinent NYPD information about that location and others was not routinely shared with nor requested by the SLA. Consequently, the SLA's use of NYPD data for its licensing and code enforcement functions was limited. SLA has the legal authority to revoke, cancel or suspend the license of an establishment where noise causes it to become a focal point of police attention.
According to the NYPD, officers took various actions at 22 of the 30 sampled locations. The noted actions included meetings with the establishments' owners and coordinated activities with other agencies, such as the SLA. However, NYPD officials could only document actions related to eight of the 22 clubs.
DiNapoli's auditors found the number of noise complaints responded to by the NYPD each year has nearly tripled, from 33,482 in 2011 to 90,954 in 2015. For 85 percent of those complaints, either no actions were taken by police officers, or the records are unclear as to how their actions addressed the complaints.
DiNapoli recommended the SLA:
- Develop a formal process to access and analyze 311 noise complaint data to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of efforts to address potential noise violations and associated licensing concerns; and
- Develop and implement a formal communication protocol with the NYPD and any other public oversight authority responsible for addressing noise matters, as they pertain to SLA-licensed establishments.
DiNapoli recommended the NYPD:
- Enhance precinct recordkeeping of noise complaints to track the exact times of officer follow up to improve management analysis of response times and the effectiveness of the actions taken; and
- Develop formal system-wide procedures to follow up on establishments with high volumes of noise complaints, including periodic communications with the SLA, and formally assess the effectiveness of actions taken to mitigate persistent noise problems.
In response to the audit, NYPD officials stated they "recognize that city-wide procedures specifically tailored toward establishments with multiple noise complaints could potentially reduce operational inefficiencies and better serve their communities." They also detailed actions they have and will take to improve their responsiveness to noise complaints and coordination efforts with SLA. In contrast, SLA officials generally disagreed with the report's findings and recommendations. The comments of each organization are included in the full audit.
See a map of noise complaints in the Lower East Side and Chinatown for the year 2015, the community district with the greatest number of nightlife noise complaints from 2010 to 2015, here: http://osc.state.ny.us/sites/default/files/other/documents/pdf/2019-04/nyc-nightlife-noise-complaints-map.pdf
Read the report, or go to: http://osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093017/16s37.pdf
The Comptroller is currently conducting an audit on construction noise in the city.
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