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Welcome to NYC’s “Quiet Zone” – Summonses and ‘Unreasonable Noise’ Violations

The Law Office of Matthew Galluzzo, PLLC Team

Now that the warm weather is here, most native New Yorkers and tourists can enjoy the sunny weather by going to any one of our gorgeous parks to take in all of the historic sights and sounds the city has to offer.

Well, maybe not the sounds so much these days…You may have noticed green and white signs which are being placed in public areas by the Department of Parks and Recreations or the Central Park Conservancy, most notably in the Park’s Strawberry Fields, Bethesda Fountains and the Boathouse. The signs, which have been placed in areas where talented musicians play soothing music which enriches the city’s cultural value and history, designate the areas they are posted in as “Quiet Zones” and prohibit musical instrument playing in addition to playing music through amplifying devices. So, no radios or speaker systems to disturb the peace…but what about the gentle classical music you may have been accustomed to hearing when strolling through the park? You won’t hear it anymore, if the city can help it…So far this year cellists, saxophonists, violinists, guitarists, and flutists playing without any electric amplification have been issued summons by the Parks Department charging them with making unreasonable noise, and asked to cease playing music at all in these areas.

While the New York Civil Liberties Union has gotten involved in the matter to address the First Amendment issues associated with the city’s prohibition of music playing in our city, the fact of that matter remains that musicians are being summoned to criminal courts to answer to judges for their actions and pay fines. Presumably they are being charged under Parks and Recreations Regulations § 1-05, section (a) which deals with:

Noise; Musical Instruments; Sound Reproduction Devices

  1. No person shall make, or cause or allow to be made, unreasonable noise in any park so as to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or harm. Unreasonable noise means any excessive or unusually loud sound that disturbs the peace, comfort or repose of a reasonable person of normal sensitivity or injures or endangers the health or safety of a reasonable person of normal sensitivity, or which causes injury to plant or animal life, or damage to property or business.
  2. No person shall play or operate any sound reproduction device, as defined in §1-02 of these Rules, in any park without a permit from the Department of Parks & Recreation and any other City agency or agencies with pertinent jurisdiction. This paragraph (2) shall not apply to the regular and customary use of portable radios, record players, compact disc players, or television receivers, or tape recorders played or operated in full accordance with these Rules so as not unreasonably to disturb other persons in their permitted uses of the park, except that in areas designated by the Commissioner as “quiet zones,” such regular and customary use of sound reproduction devices shall be prohibited. Signs shall be posted in all quiet zones advising the public of such prohibition. Use of radios and other sound reproduction devices listened to solely by headphones or earphones, and inaudible to others, is permitted in all areas of the parks.

While subdivision two would apply where people are enhancing the volume of their music with speakers or amplifiers, subsection 1 applies to those who simply play their instruments with no sound enhancement. Subsection one, however, requires that the “unreasonable noise” cause “public inconvenience, annoyance or harm.” It’s hard to imagine a violinist in Central Park causing such harm…especially if people are surrounding the musician and giving him or her a few dollars for the performance.

If not charged under the Parks and Recreations Regulations, perhaps a police officer could charge a musician under Administrative Code § 24-218, which classifies “making unreasonable noise” as a misdemeanor, meaning it can leave the person charged with a permanent criminal record and carries a potential sentence of up to 20 days imprisonment, and/or a fine of anywhere from $50 – $500.

So, before you pick up your instrument and perform in Central Park, or anywhere in the city for that matter, check to make sure you are not in a designated “Quiet Zone.” If you are, be prepared to be stopped by the police and issued a summons for violating the city’s new “noise” policy.

If you or someone you know has been given a summons to appear in court, accused of making “unreasonable noise” in violation of any New York statute, contact an experienced criminal lawyer from the firm of Galluzzo and Johnson to represent you.

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