LAKEVIEW — Everybody hates a nuisance car alarm, but as it turns out, they draw more complaints in Lakeview than anywhere else in the city — by a large margin.
According to data obtained from the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, which fields car alarm complaints through 911, the Town Hall Police District, with its headquarters in Lakeview at 850 W. Addison St., had the most complaints about car alarms over the last two years.
Town Hall logged 1,662 complaints in 2013 and 2014, according to data received in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Rogers Park was a distant second with 773 complaints, followed by Logan Square in the Shakespeare District with 715. And those rankings were consistent over the last two years, although the Near West and Foster districts briefly challenged Shakespeare for third place in late 2013 and early 2014.
Yet before you go blaming cranky, rich yuppies along the lakefront for being less tolerant and more irritable, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said to consider the circumstances. He blamed the prevalence on "a lot of expensive real estate and expensive cars," packed together along the lakefront in canyons of high-rises.
"Actually, we hear more [complaints] from the lakefront region, because the sound travels so high up. It travels vertically," Tunney said.
"And parking is so tight," he added. "So people are using every inch of space, and I'm sure they get too close to a car, and the alarm goes off."
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Dan Gershenson, 42, said that's the case in his area at Surf Street and Broadway.
"I think I hear a pretty fair amount with, you know, such a lack of parking garages," he said. "People are going to park close to one another, so I think Halsted seems to be the place where you have so much tight parking that if somebody just bumps a little bit, an alarm goes off.
"It definitely is more of an issue during the day," Gershenson added. "I think we're really lucky that it doesn't happen that much at night. I haven't seen it much at night as much as I have during the day. Sure, it's annoying, for sure any time it happens. It's always the same culprits usually. I don't know which car, though."
Tunney suggested car alarms are going off slightly more frequently in tightly packed areas where a lot more people can hear them — and file multiple complaints on the same incident.
The data would actually appear to bear that out. Town Hall's figures are marked by double-digit spikes unusual in other districts: in 2013, 14 in a single day on Jan. 14; a whopping 44 on Jan. 23; 18 on Feb. 4; 17 on April 29; and 36 on Aug. 23; and in 2014, 14 on May 11; 32 on May 15; 15 on July 1; and 19 on Aug. 25.
Oddly enough, no police district charted double-digit complaints on July 4 either year. Most likely, people just expected car alarms to go off with the odd cherry bomb or M-80, and considered it not worth calling about.
That's just the thing. Car alarms are so annoying — and designed to be so — many city dwellers have just naturally found ways to tune them out. And the sound only carries so far, even vertically.
"Well, I live on the 35th floor, so it's not that big of an issue," said Niko Salapatas, 23, who lives in a Lakeview high-rise on Lake Shore Drive just south of Belmont Avenue. "Sometimes you hear them. It's probably more of a problem for lower floors. I've heard one or two alarms, but it's not too extreme."
Brian Sanborn, 21, lives in Uptown, but grew up in Lakeview and now walks dogs there. The noise doesn't faze him, he said.
"I grew up here, I lived here my whole life, and it's kind of become a thing I don't even notice," Sanborn said. "If I was probably older and had a family and stuff and noise like that happened all the time, it would probably get on my nerves. But I can definitely see it being a problem."
Even Gershenson said the alarms eventually just blend into the normal city cacophony.
"To be honest with you, it's usually a combination of car alarms and fire trucks," he said. "I think the biggest thing in my neighborhood is if you're talking about the noise, it's really a fire truck issue.
"The car alarm thing has come up, for sure, in any city — that's expected. But the thing that happens more, truly, the older the building and when it's a high-rise thing, we're more woken up by fire trucks than anything."
Tunney said his office hasn't noticed any particular serial complainers, and 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore echoed that in Rogers Park, saying complaints were "nothing out of the ordinary."
Rogers Park, like Lakeview, is infamous for its congested parking, mixed similarly with high-rise apartment buildings.
Even so, car alarm noise remains a persistent problem citywide — and a reliable, if limited, source of city revenue.
According to city data, last year the city issued 578 tickets through November for car alarms that blare for longer than the allowed four minutes. That was consistent with, if down slightly from, the 688 issued for all of 2013.
According to city ordinance, the fine is $50 for the first offense for a "burglar alarm sounding over four minutes;" $75 for the second offense, and $100 after that.
Still, some might say that's too low. Nothing rattles a neighborhood, or infuriates a neighbor, quite like a car alarm going off in the middle of the night. In November, one such incident in Ukrainian Village prompted a person to leave a caustic, profane note to the car owner on the windshield.
City officials, however, caution residents not to take the law into their own hands. They're sympathetic to the problem, though, as "chronic car alarms" are clearly listed as one of the handful of legitimate reasons to call 911 rather than 311. Police issue the ticket.
"Anyone who wishes to report a car alarm going off for more than four minutes at a time should call 911, as this is an issue of disturbing the peace of your neighborhood," Police Department spokesman Marty Maloney said.
Bob Bothur, who owns Soundz Good Chicago, 3449 N. Western Ave., in Roscoe Village, said that ought not to be a problem in the first place with any decent alarm that's been properly installed.
"Normally what happens, when an alarm goes off, it goes off for 45 seconds or a minute, and then it shuts off and rearms itself," Bothur said. "It then goes off again if an intruder is trying to break into the vehicle.
"It goes off three times, and after the third time it normally shuts down and goes into what we call 'nuisance protection,'" he added. In that event, the device is designed to recognize that something other than a thief is setting it off, such as "a stormy night," and "you have to reset it to go off again."
Bothur said that's standard for all the devices he sells, and that only a poor or malfunctioning alarm would cause a chronic problem.
"As long as it's installed correctly, and everything is done, that shouldn't be a problem," he added.
Bothur said the alarms remain popular, both for those who've suffered a smash-and-grab incident and for those being preventive. And they're popular for all ranks and makes in cars, from luxury to subcompact.
"It doesn't matter the type of vehicle," he said. "People are putting alarms on all of them.
"If they value what they have, they normally place an alarm system on it," Bothur added.
He said the ones he sells range in price from $179 to $450, and that he installs 20 or 30 a month.
The fewest car alarm complaints were registered in the Englewood Police District, with just 36 overall in the last two years, the same as Lakeview charted in a single day on Aug. 23, 2013.
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