It seems as if businesses have tried everything to rid themselves of pesky teenage loiterers–the ones who use foul language, constantly bum cigarettes, shoplift, and make older customers feel uncomfortable. For a time, primarily in the United Kingdom, businesses used fluorescent lights outside storefronts to accentuate acne and other blemishes on teenagers’ skin so that they would not want to hang out there. Then, they tried blasting classical music in hopes that the sophisticated tunes would disagree so much with the youths’ grungy palates that it would similarly drive them away. Now, a couple of cities in the United Kingdom are using yet another teen-deterrent to clear their store entrances of loiterers. And this time, it seems to be working.
Some businesses in England and Wales have installed gadgets called Mosquito units outside their stores. These small, sonic devices emit a certain high-pitched frequency of sound that is supposedly heard only by people under the age of 21, but not by anyone over the age of 30. The “chirps” of sound are highly annoying and uncomfortable to those who can hear them. Even some homeowners have installed Mosquito units outside the entrances of their homes or on street corners in order to disperse unruly teenagers, and all parties involved (including the teenagers) agree that the devices are effective.
However, although they are effective at dispersing teenagers, it is unclear whether these devices actually prevent crime. Business owners seem to agree that they make more money when their customers are comfortable and free of the shenanigans of teenage loiterers. And perhaps homeowners can sleep better knowing that no pack of noisy teens is gathering on the sidewalk outside their homes. But critics of the Mosquito units are quick to point out that the only thing they actually do is disperse teens; they don’t actually prevent crime, nor do they offer any long-term solutions for keeping kids off the streets. Their net effect is to simply shift the loitering to another location.
Teenagers are aware that they are stereotyped every day, and undoubtedly they resent any more isolation than they already feel. So maybe what unruly teenagers actually need are more safe and positive places to hang out, rather than a list of more places that they are not welcome. Sports leagues, teen centers, afterschool activities, and volunteer programs offer more productive alternatives to prevent crime among teenagers.
Still, if crime is rampant enough on one particular street corner or at one particular business, a storeowner in South Wales offers his explanation of the device to teenage loiterers in a way that could avoid exacerbating tension:
“I told them it was to keep the birds away because of the bird flu epidemic.”
Publication National Crime Prevention Council
Date24 November 2006