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Neighborhoods disturbed by noise, New London police to tackle issue

New London — For nearly 40 years, John Russel has lived in a quiet, quaint neighborhood on Robinson Street. But over the last 18 months, he said, "it's become like a war zone."

The excessive noise started with dirt bikes, he said. Nearly every day, dirt bike riders speed up and down his one-way street on one wheel, revving their engines and disrupting the normally tranquil atmosphere. Then, after the cancellation of Sail Fest due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fireworks started booming several nights a week, keeping him and his neighbors awake or causing them to worry whether they're hearing gunshots.

He and his neighbors, he said, have called police to complain about noise more than 30 times in the last year alone. Their complaints seem to only have made things worse, though. His car has been egged and the engine revving has only increased outside his house, in what he thinks are retaliative acts.

"I feel like my whole street has been taken away from me," Russel said.

He isn't the only one who feels this way.

New London Police Department has received enough noise complaints to launch a new citywide initiative.

The department announced "Operation Quiet Down" as a way to address a longstanding "quality of life issue" in the city, according to Chief Brian Wright.

He said officers will designate days and times to stop owners of vehicles with loud mufflers or drivers who tend to rev their engine at stop lights or are spotted speeding up and down the same streets repeatedly.

Casey Alger recently moved to 45 Tilley St. in June after living on Bank Street near Montauk Street for about six years. The noise in his new neighborhood, he said, has been almost constant.

Alger said he and his cat, Casino, "have felt the full brunt of fireworks, dirt bikes, and domestic disturbance yelling" as noises from the street drift in through their second-floor window.

Fireworks have been a concern throughout the city — and statewide — since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many communities saw an uptick in backyard fireworks shows. But according to police, Operation Quiet Down won't be focusing on fireworks — their main objective is to tackle the issue of excessively loud vehicles and bikes.

Though the noise is an issue, Alger said he is concerned about how the initiative will affect the city as a whole. He thinks the operation may be "misguided" and may disproportionately target lower-income areas with more police presence.

"It goes without saying that this is an initiative that can be mishandled and even abused for lower-income downtown residents that do not have the spacious suburban yards or private beaches of Pequot Avenue to light off nightly fireworks in," he said. "This is only going to lead to not needed confrontation between civilians and cops in a climate where attitudes are already at a boil because of recent events regarding police brutality."

Ramona Wujtewicz, 69 who lives on Fitch Avenue, said she is hopeful the new initiative will help solve a problem that she and her neighbors have been dealing with day in and day out.

On her street, she said she thinks the noise is mostly the result of one neighbor who has a loud motorcycle — likely one without a muffler — and a car with an extremely loud sound system that he cranks up.

"The noise is so loud, it rattles the pictures on the walls and the dishes in my cabinets," she said. "We'll be sitting here watching TV and all of a sudden we can't hear the TV and we can feel the vibration in our chairs."

In addition to the disruptions to her own life, she said every week she and a neighbor deal with the excessive noise waking their sleeping grandchildren, whom they watch during the week. She hopes police can help.

"I know the police have many really important things to do and I'm not trying to be what they call a 'Karen,' but it would help the city to control the element of people that think they can just do whatever they please," Wujtewicz said.

Wright said tackling the issue "is a sprint, not a marathon" and officers will do their best to educate drivers about how the noise they're making is disrupting fellow residents. If that doesn't work, he said, they'll move toward disciplinary actions, such as formal citations.

According to a news release, the department has plans to explore new methods for curbing noise pollution in addition to ramping up patrols. Wright did not respond to requests for comment about what those new methods will be or whether there will be specific neighborhoods that are targeted.

t.hartz@theday.com 

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