SOME 20 officers, armed with sound level detectors, are preparing to do battle against excess noise in Palma this summer.
The so-called “Green Squad” used the force of the law on 438 occasions last year when bars, music groups, traffic and neighbours' merrymaking broke the permitted sound levels, on the majority of occasions at night.

The officers are currently finishing their training to make sure that their sound measuring skills using state-of-the-art equipment, allow for the minimum amount of error. To qualify, and to comply with the 1995 Municipal Environment Protection Act, they will need to make 5 accurate sound readings.

Under recently introduced rulings, there will be around 30 sound tests made in the course of a week, said Chief Environmental Subinspector, Gabriel Torrens yesterday. Most of these, he explained, will be situations where there have been complaints on previous occasions.

Accuracy of sound readings, he said, are of the utmost importance, because between 30 and 40 percent of complaints are discounted after noise levels were proven to be within limits. “Personal quarrels, or an unrealistic attempt to achieve peace and quiet are often behind the cases that my officers need to investigate,” said Torrens. An individual reading can take between two and three hours, he added.

So as to maintain anonymity, the squad approaches places where it needs to measure sound levels dressed in civilian clothing. Their equipment is then set up and readings taken. If the decibels are over the legal limit, the City Council's Health department sends out a letter to the proprietors of the premises under investigation, requesting them to comply with the law.

Offenders frequently try to remedy the situation by partial soundproofing or shutting off the area where, for example, music is being played, to the outside.

The average Spaniard apparently speaks at a sound reading of 60 decibels. It is from this level upwards where night-time entertainment businesses need to tone down their activity, said Torrens. In cafeterias, noise above 70 decibels is not permitted whilst live music in bars is allowed to reach 90 decibels. Although the noise limits are well known, many premises regularly exceed the legal levels.

But it is not just late night music in bars which can prevent residents from getting a good night's sleep, said Torrens. Evangelical church services, where enthusiastic singing forms a major part of worship, have also been guilty of “disturbing the peace.” Many places where such services are held are not closed off to the outside.

Some air conditioning units can also exceed the permitted decibel level when operating at full power. Amongst the complaints registered in this sector is the noise made by the ventilation system at Palma central station.

The Council gives those who are notified of their excessive noise levels a period of between 6 and 9 months to take corrective action. A second letter may result in the closure of the premises.