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NYS Comptroller


Taxpayers' Guide to State and Local Audits

New York City Police Department
Responsiveness to Noise Complaints Related to New York City Nightlife Establishments

Issued: June 09 , 2017
Link to full audit report 2016-S-37

To determine whether the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) have effectively addressed noise complaints related to nightlife establishments in New York City (NYC). Our audit period was January 1, 2010 through March 31, 2016, with a focus on calendar years 2014 and 2015.

For the period January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2015, a total of 713,264 noise complaints were called in to NYC’s 311 system. According to the World Health Organization Guidelines for Community Noise, the general population is increasingly exposed to community noise, creating the potential for a significant public health concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also outlined adverse health effects from noise, including: hearing loss; increased stress, anxiety, and fatigue; elevated blood pressure; cardiovascular disease; loss of sleep; increased heart rate; and increased sensitivity to sound.

Various State and City agencies are responsible for handling noise complaints. For purposes of this audit, which focuses on noise complaints pertaining to NYC-based nightlife establishments, the NYPD and the SLA are the agencies primarily responsible. Of the aforementioned 713,264 complaints registered through the 311 system, 328,289 pertained to addresses that had nightlife establishments, and these complaints were forwarded to the NYPD.

Key Findings

The number of noise complaints called in to NYC’s 311 system has risen significantly in recent years, from 86,365 in 2010 to 179,394 in 2015. Over the same period, the annual number of noise complaints involving nightlife establishments also increased significantly, from 38,401 to 93,412. Thus, the number of noise complaints in NYC more than doubled between 2010 and 2015. As a result of our audit, we found:

  • The NYPD’s and the SLA’s efforts to communicate and coordinate noise mitigation strategies and tactics with each other were limited. Also, the SLA did not access and analyze pertinent data from NYC’s 311 system. As a result, certain establishments with numerous noise complaints lodged against them continued to operate with little or no notice from public oversight authorities to address such complaints.
  • When the SLA took action against establishments with high levels of complaints, they were primarily due to violations other than those related to noise. In addition, actions were rarely taken (if ever) against certain establishments with comparatively high levels of noise complaints. The NYPD used its resources to respond to the same locations hundreds of times a year, often with little or no apparent effect on the numbers of complaints.
  • The accuracy of records maintained by these agencies needs improvement. For example, according to 311 system data, NYPD officers issued a total of 14 summonses to several of the nightlife establishments we sampled. However, NYPD officials were able to provide supporting documentation for only 11 of the 14 reported summonses.

Key Recommendations

To the NYPD:

  • Enhance precinct recordkeeping of noise complaints to track the exact times of officer follow-up to improve management analysis of response times and the effectiveness of the actions taken.
  • Develop formal system-wide procedures to follow up on establishments with high volumes of complaints, including periodic communications with the SLA. Formally assess the effectiveness of actions taken to mitigate persistent noise problems.

To the SLA:

  • Develop a formal process to access and analyze 311 noise complaint data to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of efforts to address potential noise violations and associated licensing concerns.
  • Develop and implement a formal communication protocol with the NYPD and any other public oversight authority responsible for addressing noise matters, as they pertain to SLA-licensed establishments.

Other Related Audit/Report of Interest

  • None

State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Kenrick Sifontes
Phone: (212) 417-5200; Email:
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236