Low-Tech Loitering Countermeasure

Amazingly, this works:

To clear out undesirables, opera and classical music have been piped into Canadian parks, Australian railway stations, 7-Eleven parking lots and, most recently, London Underground stops.

According to most reports, it works. Figures from the British capital released in January showed robberies in the subway down by 33 percent, assaults on staff by 25 percent and vandalism of trains and stations by 37 percent. Sources in other locales have reported fewer muggings and drug deals. London authorities now plan to expand the playing of Mozart, Vivaldi, Handel and opera (sung by Pavarotti) from three tube stations to an additional 35.

It's not new:

But as Kahle points out, "It's well known within the industry that classical music discourages teen loitering. It was first used by 7-11 stores across the country over a decade ago."

Note that this does not reduce loitering, but moves it around. But if you're the owner of a 7-Eleven, you don't care if kids are loitering at the store down the block. You just don't want them loitering at your store.

Posted on August 6, 2005 at 7:46 AM • 31 Comments

Comments

Lally SinghAugust 6, 2005 8:55 AM

The cost of course is that now everyone else is forced to listen to it.

MikeNAugust 6, 2005 8:57 AM

Munich has been playing classical music in one subway station since February 2000 and extended it to nine others in July 2001. This press release gives more details (German only): http://www.mvg-mobil.de/presse/presse_2003/...

It also gives some results of passenger surveys on that topic. Under "subjective feeling of security", it states that 29% of the women and 20% of the men feel more secure in a subway station that plays music.

tanukiAugust 6, 2005 9:04 AM

The London Underground has taken this idea and perfected it: for some years they have been issuing licenses for "buskers" - itinerant street-musicians. It generally seems to be a pre-qualifier for getting such a license that you have no musical talent whatsoever. The efficiency of poorly-played bagpipes at clearing a station platform has to be seen to be believed.

ChrisAugust 6, 2005 9:39 AM

"The efficiency of poorly-played bagpipes at clearing a station platform has to be seen to be believed."

Don't you mean heard?

Mark J.August 6, 2005 9:43 AM

Disney has been doing this, albeit not intentionally. In the main square of their town Celebration, they play Disney-type music everywhere. There are speakers in bushes, even. It was enough to make me want to get away from there. Probably not the original intent, though.

CTPAugust 6, 2005 9:58 AM

Obligatory A Clockwork Orange quote:

"Then, brothers, it came. O bliss, bliss and heaven, oh it was gorgeousness and georgeosity made flesh. The trombones crunched redgold under my bed, and behind my gulliver the trumpets three-wise, silver-flamed and there by the door the timps rolling through my guts and out again, crunched like candy thunder. It was like a bird of rarest spun heaven metal or like silvery wine flowing in a space ship, gravity all nonsense now. As I slooshied, I knew such lovely pictures. There were veeks and ptitsas laying on the ground screaming for mercy and I was smecking all over my rot and grinding my boot into their tortured litsos and there were naked devotchkas ripped and creeching against walls and I plunging like a shlaga into them."

Gilles ChehadeAugust 6, 2005 9:58 AM

In Paris there are two kinds of music players in the subway, those authorized by the company after an audition (and these are tough) to play in the halls. And those that just get into the train and play the exact same tune than the ten others (well actually, they all play bad in different ways) that came in and out during the same travel.

This has never reduced the violence, pickpocketing and racket, as many of them eventually get beat up one day or another.
It's sad :|

Davi OttenheimerAugust 6, 2005 11:36 AM

But will the presence of classical music increase the number of people travelling with personal music devices and wires hanging about...?

Oddly, I noticed Wagner and Carl Orff weren't in the music selections. Not all classical music is appropriate, perhaps?

Davi OttenheimerAugust 6, 2005 12:09 PM

"In Paris there are two kinds of music players in the subway"

I always hear speculation that buskars are either undercover police operatives or bored rich kids...you would think at least some of them would be interested in monitoring and keeping their area safe since it's better for business. To that extent, perhaps if buskars were licensed and/or not forced to leave, they could provide some element of security/support to travelers themselves. Maybe that's what they are really suggesting when they ask for "change"?

Paul OAugust 6, 2005 1:50 PM

Are there any studies to back up the theories on where the dispersed crowds land?

If a 7-11 plays classical music, do the kids really just choose a shop down the block? What if there aren't other viable choices on that block? Do some actually stop hanging out?

It would seem reasonable to posit that they're using the "hive" of activity around the 7-11 as a social hub; a shop down the block might not have the same attraction, and some of the kids just might break away from that social group and align instead with other friends at home, or - forbid the thought - study.

If the "in" crowd doesn't look, act, and sound "cool" then another crowd should gain social ascendancy.

SeramarAugust 6, 2005 3:46 PM

Chances are if you've got nothing better to do but hang around 7-11, get turned off by classical music, and have nowhere else to go... you probably won't go home and study. You'll sit by the river and smoke a joint.

DMAugust 6, 2005 4:00 PM

Wonder if this works on the terrorists?

Maybe you need a different kind of music for terrorists, probably bulgarian nose flute music or something like that.

Chris WrightAugust 6, 2005 4:38 PM

Too bad this wasn't instituted years ago--I'd have started loitering. Don't have the time, now.

Thomas SprinkmeierAugust 7, 2005 3:06 AM

What a great idea.

Alienate all youths by making them feel like loiterers. Some of these places are supposed to be public spaces, what right does anyone have to deny them to others? We (i.e. the oldies) fail to respect them, and then we wonder when they don't respect us.

Alienates all foreigners by making them feel like criminals. Empty all your pockets and bags, pass over your fingerprints and let me scan your RFIDcard. Pass laws that disrespect them and then wonder why they disrespect our laws.

Alienate all muslims by making them feel like terrorists. Dark skinned? Nervous? Pacing? unfashonably dressed? Better have good life insurance! Disrespect their heritage and religion, and then wonder why some take those and twist them into a weapon against us.

What a wonderful brotherhod of man.

Everyone keeps shifting the problems, and making them just a little bit worse as they do. Like sweeping the rubbish from in front of your door to your neighbours door, and adding a bit in the process.

This might be a good short-term solution for some, but it's a terrible long-term problem for society.

ZZ TOPAugust 7, 2005 3:27 AM

Thomas,

Isolation of the enemy from their environment forces the enemy to be reactive. By giving them no information, or confused information, about that environment they will have poor planning and execution of their goals. I think it is a good strategy.

Disregard for this strategy probably stems more from people adding their political and moral views to the situation. I agree that the governments are doing a poor job at stereotyping the enemy into overreaching classes. The sad thing is, this is actually a symptom of poor intelligence and internal government decision making that is probably in chaos and has no idea who, where or what the enemy is.

Like they say all the time on the news lately ... "It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when." Huzzah for incompetent governments.

Paul HarrisonAugust 7, 2005 6:04 AM

Even if it just moves the loitering around, it's still useful. If I want to get on a train (I'm Australian) I have to go to the train station. If there is loitering happening somewhere else, I can choose not to go there. Playing classical music at a limited number of points can guarantee access to essential services.

Chris WrightAugust 7, 2005 8:04 AM

@ZZ TOP

The problem isn't so much generalizing terrorist attributes. It's in using more general attributes to look for terrorists. In the US, we've had one foreign terrorist attack in the past few years and a couple of attempts; previous to that, we had Timothy McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski, plus a half dozen personal bombings (school shootings with pipe bombs, mainly) and a few abortion clinic attacks.

Kaczynski was motivated by a vision of society radically different from ours, one that could be achieved by dismantling our economy and technological infrastructure. While this could likely be stopped in the future by an unreasonable level of monitoring, there's little else that would be effective.

The abortion clinic bombers were motivated by religious beliefs. (Of course, their belief in the right to life caused them to kill, so they're a paradox. Very similar to Islamic terrorists, actually.) You might be able to remove all 'religious' terrorism by destroying religions. Most of these people probably need to see psychologists on a regular basis; it could be argued that, without religion, they'd be more likely to do so, but I'm not sure I'd like to argue that point.

School shootings are usually caused by a touch of insanity and a fair dose of ostracization. It's the atheist terrorism that's hardest to counter--though only marginally.

So why bother stopping terrorism? It'll be here at least until the would-be terrorist can remove himself from one society and form a new one. That's quite a long way off, I think.

And all this has nothing to do with loitering.

Rob MayfieldAugust 7, 2005 6:02 PM

@Davi : "I always hear speculation that buskars are either undercover police operatives or bored rich kids...you would think at least some of them would be interested in monitoring and keeping their area safe since it's better for business."

... so if you happen to be looking inadvertantly suspect on the tube platform and you see someone running towards you with a guitar or clarinet yelling "Stop or I'll shoot" ...

D.August 7, 2005 6:58 PM

@Chris Wright

"The problem isn't so much generalizing terrorist attributes. It's in using more general attributes to look for terrorists."

I believe that's what ZZ was pretty much saying.

"Kaczynski was motivated by a vision of society radically different from ours"

Actually no he wasn't. If you'd read some of the FBI profiles done on Kaczynski, for example there is one in the book 'Anatomy of Motive', you'd know that his primary motivation was anger.

"The abortion clinic bombers were motivated by religious beliefs... Very similar to Islamic terrorists, actually."

Wrong again. It must be comforting to use such dime store oprah-fied psychology. Much of the current psychologists who study Terrorism such as Crenshaw, Silke, Sageman, Hudson et. al. have come to the conclusion that terrorists see themselves as warriors and they don't have any noticeable psychopathological traits, so your views on them seeing psychiatrists is wrong as well. They have also come to the conclusion that religion, while acting as one of many catalysts, is not the primary motivator of terrorism.

Search Google for "The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why?" and you'll find a good pdf file on the topic and maybe you can bring yourself up to scratch on the psychological theories of terrorism.

D.August 7, 2005 7:10 PM

"And all this has nothing to do with loitering."

Actually as ZZ pointed out the strategy is quite similar to military strategy. So yes it does have to do with loitering.

StomaphagusAugust 7, 2005 7:46 PM

The McDonald's restaurant in downtown Seattle did the same trick some years ago, playing loud country music to the mostly African-American teens loitering around. The problem is, it only works so long as the music plays, so the noise must become a permanent part of the site. I found the idea of a McDonalds in a permanent threat posture jarring (the music was loud enough to be almost weaponized); apparently others did, too, because I believe that outlet has been closed.

signalsnatcherAugust 7, 2005 11:54 PM

Where do these stories come from? In _one_ city in Australia, (Wollongong - a steel mill city just south of Sydney) _one_ mall has succeded in "discouraging theft and vandalism" (code for "scaring teenagers away") by playing Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darren and similar vocalists. Mind you, it discourgaed most of the other customers, so they abandoned it.

Light classical music is usually played in the more upmarket stores to "set the right tone" (code for "attract the middle class"). I have never heard opera or classical music played in car parks or 7-Elevens.

MospawAugust 8, 2005 10:57 AM

@Mark J.

If the "musical mushrooms" in the bushes are the only thing that creeped you out about Celebration, then you're a stronger man than I am. That place is outright weird in a surreal Stepford kind of way. That kind of overly-scripted "perfect" makes my skin crawl. Ick.

I actually enjoy the type of music they are playing, so it wouldn't drive me away. I can see how others might object. On the other hand, I'm no more likely to hang around because of the music.

Now, since this is a winning proposition for the 7-Eleven stores, but a losing one for the store up the street since it shifts the problem to them, what happens if ALL the stores and subway stations start playing classical music? Does loitering stop altogether, or are libraries and grocery stores suddenly at risk?

Bruce SchneierAugust 8, 2005 11:06 AM

"Now, since this is a winning proposition for the 7-Eleven stores, but a losing one for the store up the street since it shifts the problem to them, what happens if ALL the stores and subway stations start playing classical music? Does loitering stop altogether, or are libraries and grocery stores suddenly at risk?"

I think that if everyone does it, the effect lessens. It's primarily a difference: it's better to loiter here than there. If no better there than here, the loiterers might as well stay here.

SeattliteAugust 8, 2005 12:08 PM

Alas, that McDonald's didn't close, the building was demolished and rebuilt, and a new McDonald's went in. Sadly, they're still playing Country Music constantly. I only wish they were playing Classical.

I'll still take the music over the previous solution, which was to have a highly visible police presence in and around the store on a permanent basis. Armed officers (Especially Seattle officers, given previous... incidents) are more hostile than Country Music.

Davi OttenheimerAugust 8, 2005 1:36 PM

"The problem is, it only works so long as the music plays, so the noise must become a permanent part of the site."

Imagine a downtown without noise...

NigelAugust 12, 2005 12:07 PM

I heard they had been doing this for years, certainly at Penn Station here in New York.

What happens when they get to 4'33"?

another_bruceDecember 6, 2005 11:38 AM

as a 50 y.o. juvenile delinquent who loves classical music, i would be happy to spray-paint your wall to mozart.

goingsoloJune 24, 2007 9:29 PM

if playing classical music and opera can cause youths to move on instead of loitering, can music that they do like be used in the same way to encourage gathering points where the authorities either want them to be or don't mind them being? Given that they will go somewhere and won't necessarily go home.

cameron20020February 12, 2009 5:38 AM

the've got it all wrong.
anyone watched "a clockwork orange"?
this music is what sets them off
now you're going to have people in weird costumes going around drinking milk :P

on a serius note, jazz would be a better, more non-violent music type to play. i find classical music encourages thought,meaning can also encourage violent though given the right circumstances

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..