By Dom Nozzi
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE . . . OOOOOOOOOOOOOOO . . . EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!
These assaulting, incessant, head-rattling sounds occur 24 hours a day. Seven days a week. They are the sounds of living in the middle of a war zone.
Saigon in 1970? Beirut in 1980? Baghdad in 2007?
No. It is the ambience that those who reside in and near downtown Gainesville have had to endure now for several years.
Over the years, when I lived in Gainesville, visitors from out of town invariably told me how astonished they were by the frequent, alarming sounds of low-flying helicopters and emergency vehicle sirens in Gainesville. How it seems much louder and much more frequent than what they experience in cities such as Washington, D.C., or Miami.
For me, it led to sleep deprivation. Frayed nerves. Tension. And rage. I called the Gainesville Police Department on a regular basis between midnight and 6 a.m. to complain, and beg the police to stop the menacing, circling the helicopter in downtown neighborhoods so I could get some sleep.
How many who live downtown verge on a nervous breakdown due to this unrelenting, screaming, troubling noise?
How many have resigned themselves to what seems like a constant state of emergency, and have decided to somehow tough it out by taking sleeping pills or wearing ear muffs in bed?
How many have given up on downtown living and have vowed to move to the “peace and quiet” of a suburban home?
How many have vowed to never live in downtown—unable to stand the siege-like atmosphere?
Many assaulted citizens simply don’t know who to complain to. Or that it is even possible or appropriate to complain.
Others are (inaccurately) convinced that constantly circling helicopters and incessant, 24/7 convoys of shrieking emergency vehicle sirens are necessary to capture dangerous criminals or put out raging fires.
Some simply have lowered their expectations of the amount of quiet they can expect at night. They have given up on having a serene, calm, peaceful city.
News flash: There are not dangerous murderers running around downtown who must be apprehended several times a night by a helicopter. The constantly circling police helicopters are circling not because they must, but because they can.
On balance, does tracking shoplifters with helicopters at 3 a.m. result in a net benefit for our quality of life, despite the Baghdad-like tone it creates?
It is not necessary to use fire truck and police car emergency sirens as promiscuously as does the city of Gainesville. A friend tells me his (much larger) city has a policy whereby emergency vehicle sirens are used significantly less between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. And that when the station is near a neighborhood, the siren is not activated until a major road is reached. After all, there are significantly fewer cars on the road at that time, or on neighborhood streets. And a great many citizens are trying to sleep.
At 6 a.m. one recent morning, I noticed (silently) flashing police car lights here in Richmond, Va., where I now live. It reminded me that I’ve heard significantly fewer sirens in this city than while living in Gainesville. Richmond is much larger than Gainesville. And it led the nation in murders in 1994. If Richmond can have quiet nights, why not Gainesville?
Is Gainesville truly interested in promoting quality of life? In promoting an increase in the number of people who live in or near downtown? If so, it is imperative that city-induced noise pollution be reduced.
First, the police helicopter needs to be permanently grounded or employed significantly less. I’m not convinced that helicopters reduce crime.
Let’s assume, though, that the chopper is useful when pursuing dangerous criminals . How often do we have dangerous murderers running around in Gainesville? Maybe once every 25 years? Certainly not three times a night.
Second, the city police department and fire department need to follow the lead of most every other city in the nation. Significantly reduce siren use in the early morning. Especially on neighborhood streets.
After all, I don’t believe Gainesville has more crime and fires and car crashes than D.C. or Miami that would justify more sirens in Gainesville than in those enormous, problem-prone cities.
Is Gainesville truly serious about quality of life and increasing the desirability of living in or visiting downtown?
A version of this essay was published by the Gainesville Sun on 4/13/08.
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