Suburb Impounds 645 Cars in ’10 on Stereo Laws

Berwyn, IL, a suburb of Chicago with about 50,000 residents, impounded 645 cars under a car stereo ordinance last year and 336 as of October this year.

Berwyn, ILFees for getting one’s car back after the police tow it can be as high as $800, including a $500 impound fee, which some resident find onerous, according to MySuburbanLife.com

The City police department has collected more than $624,000 in fines since 2009 through the ordinance.

Story:

Berwyn, IL —

When Shannon Enriquez got a call from her 18-year-old son Nicholas telling her that her car was towed for blasting too loud of music while he was driving it on Cermak Road, she thought it was a joke.

Then, she worried her son might be hiding something from her. Clearly, there must be a better reason for the impound, she thought.

After arriving at the Berwyn police station last month, she was even more shocked to hear the price of getting her car back — $750, which includes a $500 impound fee from the Berwyn Police Department and a $250 towing fee from Metro Towing, the company the city uses for its towing needs. Enriquez and her son have a Dec. 1 court date, which will determine if an additional fine of up to $750 for the local ordinance ticket will be tacked on.

And Enriquez is not alone. Her car is just one of 336 that have been impounded this year (through Oct. 31, the latest date available) under a city ordinance that impounds vehicles for music that can be heard from more than 75 feet away. In 2010, a total of 649 cars were impounded.

Many drivers who are stopped by police officers under the ordinance — Nicholas Enriquez included — are angry because they had no idea playing music loudly comes with such a hefty fine.

“I know my son was wrong for blasting the music, but that’s quite a punishment,” Shannon Enriquez said. “I can understand a fee of $100 or $200 maybe, because they want to get control on what’s going on … but towing your car? That’s something they do for drag racing.”

Enriquez said she had just moved back to Berwyn from Channahon, Ill. after a four-year break and hadn’t read updates to the municipal code, which went into effect for noisy car stereos in May 2006.
As a result, Enriquez says her family has suffered a financial blow when the family budget already was strained.

“This has deeply impacted my family. … That was like Christmas money,” she said. “My husband had just recently been laid off of work, which is one of the reasons we came back to Berwyn. He just landed another job and we were getting on our feet. We were just trying to pay our bills and catch up, and then boom, this happened. And we’re two steps backwards now.”

While the law is unpopular with those who get stuck with unexpectedly large fines, it’s loved by those who say it helps tone down neighborhoods plagued by thumping stereos.

“I think it’s great,” said resident Elizabeth Gambina, whose noticed a slight decrease in loud cars since the ordinance went into effect. “If I wanted to hear somebody else’s music, I’d ask them. I don’t think that they need to bounce my house and bounce my pavement with that bass element that they have.”

Berwyn Police Chief Jim Ritz also defended the law, saying it was a valuable law enforcement tool popular with the community.

“Most of the people I’ve ever come in contact with are in favor of it,” Ritz said. “It’s good for traffic enforcement and it’s good for quality of life issues. It’s a good protective measure in all ways.”

Ritz also said that the law gives the department a better chance at catching other criminals. On Sept. 22, two separate impounds resulted in bigger arrests — one for unlawful possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and another for driving under the influence of alcohol.

“When you have probable cause to make stops, you’re getting those who might be wanted on warrants or other violations,” he said. “They may not have a valid license in the state of Illinois, or they could be driving under the influence.”

Shannon Enriquez doesn’t disagree with any of the points made by Gambina or Ritz. She readily admitted that her son should have been fined and is all for cracking down on criminals.

But she thinks the penalty is too stiff. Including a $35 fee to store the car for one day while she scraped together the money to bail her vehicle out of impound, she’s shelled out just under $800, and may have more to come.

Enriquez went as far as to say she thinks the police department is trying to boost revenues by having such stiff fees for loud stereos — a charge Ritz firmly denied.

The police department has collected at least $624,000 in fines since 2009 through the ordinance. However, numbers so far are down this year.

“Our perspective on it is that it’s for safety and quality of life for our residents and the community,” Ritz said. “Does it bring in revenue? Absolutely, but we use that as a deterrent for them to abide by the laws and the ordinances.”

Enriquez, however, still feels like it was a surprise way for the city to take her money. She claims she didn’t go out of her way to make loud music — her Toyota Rav4 has a stock stereo inside, and she says her son is a “good kid” with a part-time job.

“That’s ridiculous,” she said. “There has to be another way.”

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