LA Is Blasting Loud Classical Music at Downtown Subway Station to Deter Homeless People
Melissa Koenig, Daily Mail, April 5, 2023
Los Angeles has started to blast loud classical music at one of its downtown subway stations in a brazen attempt to deter homeless people and crack down on crime.
LA Metro operations and security, in cooperation with local law enforcement, started playing piano sonatas, symphony orchestra pieces and concertos by Vivaldi, Beethoven and Mozart on repeat in the Westlake/MacArthur Park Metro station in January.
It was part of a safety pilot program that also includes adjustments to security cameras and lighting, as well as the addition of more officers and ‘Transit Ambassadors’ who connect homeless people in the subway system with resources.
Metro officials said the move was necessary due to a high number of drug overdoses, calls to police from transit customers and even a stabbing death in recent months as scores of the city’s homeless people took to the underground system to protect themselves from wild weather.
Although classical music is often thought to be peaceful, critics say it is a form of ‘psychological torture,’ noting that the high volumes may disrupt people’s thoughts and cause them to disassociate.
In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, LA Metro spokesman Dave Sotero said the classical music is being used ‘to restore safety at the transit station’ and ‘as a means to support an atmosphere appropriate for spending short periods of time for transit customers who wait an average of five to 10 minutes for the next train to arrive.’
The move follows the deaths of 22 people from suspected overdoses on Metro buses and trains in just the first three months of 2023, and after the system saw crime surge 24 percent last year.
So far, Metro officials say, the music has resulted in an ‘improvement in public safety,’ citing a ’75 percent reduction in calls for emergency services, an over 50 percent reduction in vandalism, graffiti and cleanups; and a nearly 20 percent drop in crime.’
The music is ‘not loud’ Sotero claimed, saying the compositions inside the station are being played at just 72 decibels.
He also claimed that the music in the station is quieter than walking on the sidewalk outside the station, which he said exceeds 80 decibels.
But reporters for the LA Times, using a handheld decibel reader, found that just a few notes were ringing in at 73dB, while the majority of the music was clocking in at an average of 83dBs.
During some string flourishes, the sound peaked at 90dB thanks to the acoustics of the underground tunnel, though the volume diminished depending on where one was standing in relation to the speakers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts decibel levels between 80 and 85 on a par with gas-powered lawnmowers and leaf blowers, and notes that hearing could be damaged after two hours of exposure.
The music has become so loud, the Times reports, that when two police officers approached homeless individuals on a recent Monday and tried to talk to them, one person had to cup her hands over her ears to hear the officers demands.
He then leaned in closer to the two homeless people and started shouting to be heard over the blasting symphony.
Meanwhile outside the station, reporters for the Times found, ambient street noise was only hovering at an average of 72dBs.
‘We want it off,’ commuter Cody Johnson, 31, told the Los Angeles Daily News last month. ‘It is driving us crazy.’
He said the music has not changed in days, and has become monotonous. Johnson also claimed he thought the music was having an opposite effect from what officials had hoped.
‘Our blood pressure is going up,’ he said. ‘People are getting more irritable with this music. I don’t think it’s working.’
In fact, loud music has been used throughout history as a form of torture — with terrorists at Guantanamo Bay being forced to listen to hours of Metallica.
And by using classical music, musicologist Lily Hirsch explains, the LA Metro is seeking to attract more upscale residents while deterring poor and homeless individuals.
‘You’re trying to attract and make certain people feel comfortable based on the association with classical music,’ she said.
‘And you see that in fancy cheese shops that play classical music because they hope people will feel like they’re part of some elite upscale world and then they’ll spend more money.’
At the same time, Hirsch, the author of Music in American Crime Prevention and Punishment, said the classical music will signal to lower-income and homeless individuals that they are not welcome.
‘It’s like a bird marking its territory when you hear the signal and you go, “OK, this is not for me. This is for the old money crowd,”‘ she said.
‘And that technique seems to work. There are examples of teenagers leaving an area that’s playing classical music, not because they don’t like the music, but because of the associations,’ Hirsch continued, citing 7-Eleven’ efforts to use classical music to deter loitering outside its Los Angeles area stores.
But when classical music is used for aggressive purposes, Hirsch said, it can feel dystopian and creepy.
One Twitter user even said the intense string symphony blaring at the station ‘really gives it the Clockwork Orange feel,’ referring to the psychological thriller.
And at the loud volume that the music is being played, Hirsch said, it is making anyone passing through the Westlake/MacArthur Park station feel uncomfortable.
Constant exposure to that volume of music, experts say, can disrupt sleep and thought, and make people feel disassociated.
At a LA Metro citizen-public-safety committee meeting recently, one member said it is a ‘psychological torture chamber.’
Moreover, critics say, the loud music is not solving any of the root causes of the homeless epidemic affecting California.
‘The city should address homelessness and people with mental health problems,’ said Hamid Khan, an organizer with Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. ‘You can’t close your eyes and expect people to go away.
‘So called hobos riding trains is an old American phenomenon,’ he added.
California, and especially Los Angeles, have been hit the hardest by America’s homeless epidemic — recording the largest numbers of unsheltered people in the country.
A recent DailyMail.com review of US Department of Housing and Urban Development data found that about a third of the entire US homeless population — 171,521 people — are in California. That includes more than half of the country’s unsheltered homeless population, 115,491 people.
The state also added 9,973 homeless people between 2020 and last year’s survey, and has the country’s highest rate of homelessness, with 44 non-housed people out of every 10,000 residents.
Los Angeles has been hit the worst, the review found, with 65,111 homeless people.