Posted on April 4, 2011

Oregon Cops Hope Classical Music Deters Loiterers

Nigel Duara, San Francisco Chronicle, April 2, 2011

Just feet from a methadone clinic at a grimy crossroads in far east Portland, Ore., transit officials and police are hoping a touch of class will chase off the vagrants, vandals and ne’er-do-wells that loiter near a busy transit stop.

Since November, the regional transit department has approved the playing of classical music in an effort to ward off the kind of crimes that happen when people just hang around.

A bill making its way through the Oregon Legislature would expand the program to all light rail stops in Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties deemed high-crime areas by police or residents.

“Classical music” in this case means opera, chamber music, choral pieces and music requiring a full orchestra. {snip}

“L’amour! L’amour! L’amour! L’amour!” bellowed the mezzo-soprano from a speaker boxed by metal bars. On the platform, one gentleman who looked to be in his 20s, decked head to waist in bright red, looked up at the speaker, then looked away.

He boarded the train, as did the rest of the platform.

“There’s no one that just hangs around,” said Scott Nielsen, who has met the train at the stop for 18 months. Before the music “they wouldn’t get on the train, that’s how you’d know they were (loitering).”


The whole project was brought to Portland by police Lt. John Scruggs, a stats-happy former neighborhood sergeant who heard of the program working in other cities and thought it was worth a try.

“Here’s the thing,” he said. “It’s crime prevention through environmental design. If you put rose bushes in front of your bedroom window, the burglar is less likely to break in through that window because they don’t want to get cut up.”

To Scruggs, changing the music is changing the audio environment. “Eighteen-to-25-year-olds are not the big ones into classical music because it’s not cool.”


{snip} In West Palm Beach, Fla., in the summer of 2001 police gave a similar program a chance at an abandoned building on a blighted street corner near downtown.


Not everyone’s experience has been negative. Though the police don’t monitor the effort at World Wine and Liquors in Sacramento, Calif., Hakim Singh said playing classical music at high volumes has sent loiterers scattering–and kept them away for more than three years.

“You hear that?” he said, lifting his phone to a speaker that at that moment was broadcasting screeching, discordant tones of a violin. “Nobody outside.”

Crime theorists haven’t reached a consensus on whether such environmental changes actually deter crime or just push it down the block.