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).”

{snip}

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}

{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.

{snip}

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.

{snip}

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  • Question Diversity

    I know precisely what they’re up to, what they’re hoping to accomplish, whom they’re looking to deter. My advice is that pre-1990 country music will work the best.

  • sbuffalonative

    I’m surprised no one has challenged this yet since it seems to target non-whites.

    They play this music in our Buffalo Metro stops.

    A couple weeks ago, someone set the channel to easy listening. I thought someone might have complained and it was a permanent change but it’s back to classical.

    Two years ago, someone changed the music to an Hispanic play list. They turned up the volume too (no surprise there). Since it was the weekend, it lasted a couple days but come Monday, it was back to classical. I suspect some Hispanic metro worker was a bit peeved that they couldn’t hear ‘their’ music.

    It’s always nice to hear this in public since you usually only hear people playing black music on their cell phones.

    I love hearing the Baroque and Classical. Not a big fan of the Romantic pieces but if it keeps the riff-raff at bay, I’ll listen to it with a smile on my face.

  • Tim in Indiana

    Now all we need is an “electronic fence” of loudspeakers at the U.S. Mexico border.

    Maybe the ultimate punishment would be to implant a microchip in lawbreaker’s heads that plays opera 24/7, except when the head is reclined, so as to fall asleep (now I know I’m really fantasizing).

  • Europhile

    This tactic has shown up off and on over the years. It’s so effective, I’m surprised it isn’t used more.

    A few years ago, another article reported that, in addition to Mozart, store owners found Barbara Streisand and the Carpenters very effective!

  • Anonymous

    ROFL

    yep, that does it. Years ago I read about the manager of one of those mini marts, who had loads of trouble with stealing and loitering. He heard that classical music would calm people down, so he played Mozart, “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”, it did not calm anyone down, but they stayed away from the place. Now what they need to do is play Jesse Norman singing Wagner, that way nobody can cry racism.

  • olewhitelady

    I suppose this keeps gangs of blacks and Hispanics from hanging around and getting into fights with each other, but it won’t be enough to keep them from targeting whites and other middle-class people for robberies and muggings.

    Police and private security need to make it uncomfortable for low-life minorities to lurk around–just like they used to do before the idea of civil rights somehow convinced so many people that a suspicious non-white cannot be questioned about his business at a particular location. A lot of low-class black men have outstanding warrants and don’t want to deal with the cops, so any probability that they will have to will send them packing. Instead of being culturally sensitive or foolishly believing that ignoring such men will avoid trouble with them, whites need to let them know they’re not welcome.

  • Follow The Light

    I’ve been to a number of Bob Dylan concerts over the years-so many White liberals but literally no blacks. Hispanics don’t attend. So for a mix you can have Classical, early country and Bob Dylan to keep it White, bright and polite.

  • workingman123

    Hank Williams FTW

    I am afraid I would be the one loitering though lol

  • Tom in Illinois

    Maybe even sappy love songs will work, cause you know the criminals they want to deter (black and minorites *cough cough*)

    Genres like Bluegrass, opera, maybe even some frank Sinatra will work too, kinda do a rotation. But hey sticking with the same song over and over again should do wonders.

  • flyingtiger

    Am I the only one who fears that this won’t work on Alex from the novel, Clockwork Orange?

  • alex

    And society within the American Empire continues to decline to third world levels.

    These “high crime” areas they are targeting will soon be low-intensity conflict zones.

    It will be gated communities for the elites, while the rabble rule the streets after dark.

  • SKIP

    While working in Kuwait in 06′ I often visited a local theater and while waiting for my popcorn and drink I would notice that the manager was playing “hip hop rap” After some weeks of the same thing, visiting on my day off, I pointed out that this type of music talked about prostitution, drug dealing, murdering the competition and harming children..He was aghast, rap music is no longer played there. Sadly, far to many young Arabs style themselves black gangstas and even more odd is that real muslims such as the Kuwaitis, Saudis and Emirates HATE blacks!

  • ghw

    Haydn and Bach could never have imagined what novel uses would be found for their works in the future America. Simply amazing.

    They’re being used as a kind of pest repellent… but at least it works.

  • Anonymous

    While nothing comes up to the level of European classical music, blacks also have great musical traditions, but most seem to know nothing about them.

    Jazz, for example, is a great music tradition, albeit not exclusively black, obviously.

    I wonder if black America has deteriorated to the point where Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, Dizzy Gillespie, and Ella Fitzgerald would make them physically ill, along with Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Debussy?

    The emotional range of gangsta rap and hip-hop extends from “I want to have sex with you” to “I want to hurt you,” with “I want to have sex with you AND hurt you” somewhere in the middle.

    Classical music probably makes thugs physically ill because it forces them to explore emotional and experiential terrain which terrifies them.

    That being said, most white people seem completely unaware of the great European musical tradition as well – and many even seem to prefer gangsta rap to Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin, which strikes me as a form of cultural autogenocide.

  • Avid Reader

    My mom lives close to the Portland light rail and uses it to travel into the center city to see theater matinees and stuff. It really is a nice, efficient and clean way to move people around except that it does travel through the heavily hispanic western suburbs. While travel on the line during the day is relatively safe (still lots of white locals about) it gets iffy after dark.

    There have been just enough racially charged ‘incidents’, where the local whites caught the brunt, to keep them off the lines at night.

    It’s a shame really. Portland is such a nice city.

  • John Engelman

    Once I was fired for listening to classical music at work. 🙁

  • Yorkshireman.

    This was tried in shopping centers in UK with speakers sounding a high pitched whine called a ‘mosquito’ which caused distress to young people below the age of 20 as their hearing was more acute at these high notes. It certainly worked as adults couldn’t detect the sound. However, very young children were also distressed so the European Parliament determined that the noise was discriminatory against a certain group of the population so it was banned. Then came classical music. Ah! That worked. One store even played recitals from Shakespeare but since the majority of customers were not in the slightest classically educated or even understood the language, once more this was deemed to be illegal, especially with muslims, who interpreted the words as being offensive to islam. Don’t ask!! I once contacted a local store which was plagued by these throwbacks and suggested that they regularly announced a free rap event at a competitor store in a well known rival gang neighbourhood. Apparently the police thought this was conducive to promoting riotous activity. Naughty, naughty!!

  • Ron

    A few years ago I owned a Night Club it catered to white males and females in the 21 to 28 year old range.

    Then THEY started to come bothering the white females and overpowering the place with their loud and abusive talk.

    As usual the white males did nothing when these outsiders came in and bothered the girls they just sat back and giggled like little school girls. My business was going downhill and fast so I tried something a little different. Every time these black agitators started coming in I ONLY PLAYED COUNTRY MUSIC the white customers didn’t mind it but those Hip Hoppers were driven up a wall and just quit coming in. It worked for me it will work for others.

  • Tom S. Cunston

    Yes, Anonymous, Ella Fitzgerald singing “It Never Entered My Mind,” and pre-1968 Miles Davis playing “I Fall in Love Too Easily” would produce sheer panic and dread in those vibrant Possesors of the Secret of Joy. One black jazz piano player was dismayed, in the early seventies, when, during a performance of a medley of Duke Ellington tunes at a Historically Black College, a young woman stood up and shouted, “Why you be playin’ that White Man’s music?” Over the years, black jazz players (Davis included) have made deliberate attempts to regain street credibility by getting ugly, funky, and “authentically black” again, and completely rejecting “Euro-centric” sources, but, by doing so, they were no longer playing jazz. And, besides, Pus-Drip Thugpole and D.J. Rump Bubble have shown many times over that they are much, much better at being ugly.

  • BAW

    When I got married a few years ago, my wife and I made our own playlist and put it on our iPod for a friend to DJ. About the only “black” songs were a few Motown numbers.

    One of the older guests remarked: “This is the first wedding I’ve been to in a long time where they didn’t play that awful rap music.”

    In my experience, and to Anonymous #14’s point, other music that works quite well in making things more civilized is “big band” music from the 1930s-40s and, yes, what used to be known as “Muzak.” Google “Seeburg Background Music” to get an idea.

  • Ben

    @ Tim in Indiana

    “Now all we need is an “electronic fence” of loudspeakers at the U.S. Mexico border.

    Maybe the ultimate punishment would be to implant a microchip in lawbreaker’s heads that plays opera 24/7, except when the head is reclined, so as to fall asleep (now I know I’m really fantasizing).”

    That made me laugh. Nice.

  • Proud Ph.D.

    As an unapologetic white music major who studied nothing but classical music throughout undergrad and graduate schools, I am DELIGHTED that MY kind of music helps to keep the low-life away from stores, malls, and cities where I like to be. There ARE idiots who have tried to claim that African music is equivalent to European classical music, and it’s laughable. They have no vertical dimension (harmony), and often no horizontal dimension (melody). Rhythm, one of the less-important elements, predominates in African music and in the contemporary music of today. Pure garbage. Proof? European music – yup, WHITE – has withstood the test of time. Hip-hop and equivalent cr** won’t.

  • Anonymous

    “Haydn and Bach could never have imagined what novel uses would be found for their works in the future America. Simply amazing.

    They’re being used as a kind of pest repellent… but at least it works.”

    I, for one, would’ve been pleased that my work enabled people in the far future to help make areas safer and helped provide a saner environment for productive people.

    While nothing comes up to the level of European classical music, blacks also have great musical traditions, but most seem to know nothing about them.

    Jazz, for example, is a great music tradition, albeit not exclusively black, obviously.

    I wonder if black America has deteriorated to the point where Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, Dizzy Gillespie, and Ella Fitzgerald would make them physically ill, along with Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Debussy?

    I’d even take black soul music (old-school R&B music, without so much of the hip-hop influence it has today) groups like the Temptations anyday over the (c)rap they seem to only know how to play today.

  • Whiteplight

    1 — Question Diversity wrote at 6:04 PM on April 4:

    “I know precisely what they’re up to, what they’re hoping to accomplish, whom they’re looking to deter. My advice is that pre-1990 country music will work the best.”

    It would work, but I think classical is best. In fact, I’d love to hear Wagner in downtown Portland everyday. But the strange thing is that this is not a new story. Portland, OR has been using classical music as a deflector at muni stations for some time now.

    If you want to cut down on thefts in stores and mall problems during the Holidays, play Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”

  • sedonaman

    I had a slightly different experience. I joined the Key Club in high school [in the late 1950s] and it decided to play music in the cafeteria during lunch, and I volunteered to be the DJ. I played my collection of easy listening songs [not even classical], figuring it might be something the average student hadn’t been exposed to. It elicited an almost violent response by a lot of students who DEMANDED that I play “their” kind of racket. Not wanting to be a party to such violence, I packed everything up, turned it in, and took my records home.

  • Strider

    Anonymous (#14) said: I wonder if black America has deteriorated to the point where Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, Dizzy Gillespie, and Ella Fitzgerald would make them physically ill, along with Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Debussy?

    Channeling the spirit of “Jimmy the Greek” here, I make the odds 15-to-1 that they would. And don’t forget other bygone-era black musicians like the Platters, the Fifth Dimension, the Supremes, Roberta Flack and Sarah Vaughan. Every once in awhile I’ll play one of their CDs just to remind myself that once upon a time most blacks were not amoral thugs.

  • Browser

    “Every once in awhile I’ll play one of their CDs just to remind myself that once upon a time most blacks were not amoral thugs.”doin’ your

    ————————–

    That’s because at one time most blacks adhered to white standards, when white culture prevailed.

    Now, whites and their standards are held in contempt, culture has become more primitive, and it’s all about “doin’ your own thang”… and “keepin’ it real”. Black so-called “music” has degenerated to: “Yeah, yeah baby, gimme what ya got! Oooh, oooooh, baby. Gimme what ya got!”

    That’s music? It sounds more like a mating ritual. Duke Ellington (“Sophisticated Lady”) would roll in his grave! But then, he was a high mulatto anyway. There’s a huge gap between black music and mulatto music. Something they don’t like to acknowledge. (Black solidarity, you know.)

  • Anonymous

    Black so-called “music” has degenerated into: “Yeah, yeah baby, gimme what ya got! Oooh, oooooh, baby. Gimme what ya got!”

    _____________________

    Ha! So true.

    If you took out the ” Oooh, oooh, baby! Yeah, yeah, yeah!” — upon which most black lyrics are based — most black “music” would be left wordless.

    The only thing left would be the thumping, grinding beat.