Noise and other police issues rise in Baldwin

Noise, and what police are doing or not doing about it, sparked a contentious discussion between Baldwin residents, aldermen and police officials Thursday.

Marilyn Burgess, who lives next to the Mobil Gas Station on Main Street in Baldwin, reminded the board that she had complained about late-night noise from the business last April.

She said the problem “did get a little better” after her initial complaint, but soon started again. She presented the board with a list of calls she and her husband made to Baldwin Police from April 12 until the present, totaling 196.

“They have responded every time and they have helped us,” Burgess said. “I’m not complaining about the police department, but we have to do something with that station. Either shut it down at 11 o’clock on weekends and 10 o’clock on weekdays… I mean it’s ridiculous, we can’t get a full night’s sleep.”

Mayor Wayne Breaux reminded the board that after a meeting with the owner, manager and police, officers were posted from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. on weekends. Signs were also put up prohibiting noise and loitering. Burgess said that worked for a time but no longer. She said once she called police to complain and “the officer on duty (at the station) was on his phone.”

Alderman Tony Gibson suggested that a sound barrier be erected between the two properties. “I think that would work,” he said.

“They should do it,” Burgess replied.

“What kind of business do they have after 11 o’clock?” Alderman Mike Lancelin asked. “Is it feasible for them to be open at that time?”

“It’s his business,” Breaux said, noting that its hours are currently not regulated by the town. Any regulation of hours would have to apply to all similar Baldwin businesses, not a single entity, legal counsel Vincent Borne said.

“It’s not the guy that owns the store, it’s the customers,” Gibson said.

“But he should control that,” Burgess said.

“So you’re going to hang a man for running an honest business,” Gibson said.

“It isn’t an honest business, that’s the problem,” Burgess replied.

Burgess’ husband Clifford noted that the store manager also pressure washes and uses a leaf blower “all hours of the night” on the property.

“We have a noise ordinance on the books and it needs to be enforced,” Alderman Clarence Vappie said. “If everyone that goes there, leaves their music on and gets a ticket, I think the problem will be eliminated.”

Baldwin assistant chief Harry Smith told the board he had monitored the situation personally. “When the club closes, there’s a gang of people that go to that store,” Smith said. “When they see officers they’re not going to turn up their music. They go in and get what they need. But he has a busy business.”

Gibson said that late at night sound carries. “If I go out there and hold a conversation, trust me, you’re going to hear that conversation,” he told Burgess. He said he can hear everything around his home at night.

“That station has been there forever, and never have we had a problem,” Burgess said. “When Slim had it, it was busy.”

“As a citizen of the town of Baldwin she should not have to do anything, move her bedroom, put a fence, anything to prevent the noise,” Alderman Thor Frederick said.

Smith said he’d talk to the manager about the pressure washing and leaf blowing.

Breaux said he’d arrange another meeting between all parties to try to rectify the situation again.

That conversation was followed by Smith making a statement that “I’ve never seen this community like this. This community needs to come together. Years ago I tried to form a neighborhood watch… a few people came, and then it went down. I tried to hold a trash pick up. Only one person showed up. We need to come together as a community.”

Smith said “if there’s a problem with the police department let’s sit down and discuss it, not come to a council meeting and get everybody riled up. I don’t like confusion, I’d rather sit down and discuss the issue. We’re all grown adults.”

Following Smith, Wallace Lancelin of Rosebud Street complained about noise on his street.

He said he and his wife had repeatedly called police in the middle of the night for loud music and talking.

“Cussing, playing loud music, talking loud,” Lancelin said. “I’ve been doing this since they moved in. What’s the solution? I work every day, and I’m trying to sleep. I know they’re doing it purposely because they know there won’t be anything done about it. I’m not talking about (the police) not doing their job, but they know all (the police) is going to do is come there and talk to them. By the time they leave, they go right back to the same thing.”

“I heard it one night from my house, that’s how bad it was,” Gibson noted.

Lancelin said he’s been at the residence for 35 years, and only has had this problem for about three years. “They started a fight out there one night, I didn’t know whether to get out the bed and duck or what,” he said. “What’s going to be done about it?”

Police Chief Gerald Minor said he would “take care of that in the morning.”

“Why aren’t these people getting citations?” Lancelin demanded.

“Some of them are,” Minor said.

“These people evidently aren’t getting them,” Lancelin said. “Something needs to be done. The last time I tried to talk to them about it I almost ended up getting into a fight. That’s why I called the police. (Smith) is talking about coming together as a community. How are you going to come together as a community when people don’t respect one another?”

Minor said the first time he addressed the problem it was caused by other persons “hanging out” at the residence. He said he would address the problem again.

Near the end of Thursday’s meeting, Frederick opened an item on the agenda she had placed for “police department discussion.”

She said there was an accident on Martin Luther King Street where a vehicle rear-ended a UPS truck, knocking it into a gas meter, causing a serious leak.

Frederick said Baldwin police and fire and a sheriff’s unit were at the scene of the leak, but there was no one directing traffic at the light to prevent vehicles from turning from Main Street onto MLK.

She said drivers could not see the accident site before turning onto MLK, and so were making the turn then turning back around in the street to return the way that had come.

“He doesn’t need to be on Main Street when he’s got his car parked in the middle of the road,” Gibson said.

“A school bus made an attempt to go down the street,” Frederick said. “It was not visible from the street.”

A private citizen attempted to warn people from turning on to the street, Frederick said, until a sheriff’s unit arrived to take over.

Officer Sam Weise said he was the officer on the scene, and he was the only officer on duty. He said his priority was the leak and an injured driver. When he looked back he saw the citizen trying to divert traffic and then backed up his unit to the light.

“No, no, no,” Frederick objected. “She stayed out there almost an hour.”

“I was there by myself, I had an S.O. deputy on the other side,” Weise said. “This is protocol. If you don’t know protocol, ask. This is what I’m supposed to be doing, assisting with the victim and the accident, then I backed up my unit.”

Frederick said she called the station for another officer to work traffic but “I was told that wasn’t going to happen because they were doing things at the department.”

Frederick added that she was contacted by Smith suggesting a meeting between her and police. “I’m not having any more meetings,” she said. “You have a job, if we don’t do our job… have officers ready to respond to whatever the situation is immediately. The day that Forgey’s Superette got run into, it would have been nice if the chief or the assistant chief would have taken a ride over there. (Smith) came in later. I’m done. Y’all doing a good job, keep up what you’re doing.”

Minor said he called Frederick back when she called about the gas line accident, but had two cases in his office to be taken care of. He said “the response I got was, ‘Wayne Breaux better do something about this.’”

He gave Breaux a CD with a recording of the phone call before stepping away from the podium.

Breaux said he agreed meetings need to be held between all parties and the police department. “We’re a small enough community we should be able to work together and get those issues resolved instead of festering and getting worse,” he said.

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