Anti-teenager sound weapon in Wales

Howard Stapleton with the sound weapon
Boing Boing and MAKE note a New York Times story about the Mosquito, a speaker unit produced by Compound Security which produces a high frequency sound (less audible to older people) in order to drive away teenagers hanging around in front of shops.

So far, the Mosquito has been road-tested in only one place, at the entrance to the Spar convenience store in this town [Barry] in South Wales. Like birds perched on telephone wires, surly teenagers used to plant themselves on the railings just outside the door, smoking, drinking, shouting rude words at customers and making regular disruptive forays inside.

“On the low end of the scale, it would be intimidating for customers,” said Robert Gough, who, with his parents, owns the store. “On the high end, they’d be in the shop fighting, stealing and assaulting the staff.”

Mr. Gough…planned to install a sound system that would blast classical music into the parking lot, another method known to horrify hang-out youths into dispersing, but never got around to it. But last month, Mr. Stapleton [the inventor] gave him a Mosquito for a free trial. The results were almost instantaneous. It was as if someone had used anti-teenager spray around the entrance, the way you might spray your sofas to keep pets off. Where disaffected youths used to congregate, now there is no one.

At first, members of the usual crowd tried to gather as normal, repeatedly going inside the store with their fingers in their ears and “begging me to turn it off,” Mr. Gough said. But he held firm and neatly avoided possible aggressive confrontations: “I told them it was to keep birds away because of the bird flu epidemic.”

It reminds me of times in school physics lessons where we’d set a frequency generator (with audio output) to about 19-20 kHz (which all the students could just about hear, but the teacher–50-odd–couldn’t) and gradually, over the course of the lesson, turn the knob to reduce the frequency until at about 14-15 kHz, the long-suffering teacher (whom I won’t name) would usually notice (a slight twitch would pass across his face) and sigh as he realised what we’d done.

On the point of the Mosquito itself, it’s interesting to consider discriminatory architectures within design. There aren’t that many that would be considered ‘acceptable’: for example using high shelves, child-proof lids and so on are seen as OK (‘discrimination against children is OK because they don’t know what’s good for them’), yet it’s rare for the reverse to be true.

Say a car manufacturer wanted to discourage older people from buying/being associated with its cars (maybe commercially unlikely, but bear with me). Would it be censured for only fitting low, difficult-to-get-into bucket seats in the hope that many older people would be put off in the showroom?

It’s ‘OK’ for playgrounds and theme-park rides aimed specifically at children to have an upper height restriction (‘you must be able to walk under this bar to use this playground’), but would it be acceptable for a trendy bar to have a very steep staircase deliberately to discourage more arthritic potential clientele from visiting?

Just some thoughts. While the Mosquito is interesting, I wonder if the kids will simply stop using the Spar and go somewhere else. I know I would have done at that age.

20 Comments

  1. Helene Williams

    When can I get it??!! And how much will it cost?

    Thanks

    Helene

  2. Dan

    Well, Helene, you can order it from Compound Security’s website – here – £581.63 per unit plus £41.13 if you require a security cage.

  3. Rob

    Im a teenager, i think the idea is discriminating against the majority of young people who are NOT anti-social. Personally, I would be offended if a shop-keeper set this device off simply bcause i was outside with my friends.

  4. Dan

    As you say Rob, it is explicitly assuming that ‘all’ young people are there to cause trouble, and there is no-one to speak up for them. I wonder how it would be seen if a different device were used to drive away another group of ‘potential troublemakers’, whoever they might be.

    A lot of small shops in Britain rely on younger people buying things, even if it’s only snacks on their way to or back from school or college. Adults are more likely to have cars, hence more likely to drive to a supermarket to shop. So if a small shop really wants to install a system such as this, they may well find that a lot of their important customers are driven away.

    The best thing you & your friends could do would be to boycott any shop which installs such a system. Or go in wearing headphones or earmuffs to drown out the sound… or if you want a nice electronics project, build a noise-cancelling system that plays back the same frequency that the Mosquito broadcasts, but in antiphase so it cancels out exactly.

  5. John Drake

    Sorry to say Rob that although I appreciate your comment, the majority of teenagers I come across are aggresive, confrontational and downright rude. The act of congregating outside shops is to intimidate both customers and the shop keeper, it is the kind of terror that used to be used by the gangsters in the 50’s and 60’s when a business wouldn’t pay them protection money.
    I could ask you the question why you would feel it is necessary to hang about outside the corner shop if not to intimidate. I am only 49 but I never had the desire to hang around in a large gang when I was a teenager.
    Given the level of violence associated with young people these days I would say that this device is an answer to prayer. Reason no longer works, that has been proven, now we need to find other methods that work – ASBO’s,prison and youth custody centres are not working, perhaps this will.
    I only wish it were cheaper!

  6. Dan

    I note that Lucy Mangan in today’s Grauniad (“Noises to annoy all the family”) finds the whole thing hilarious:

    “Surely the world is crying out for a handheld, multigenerational version of the Mosquito that can, with a few recalibrations, be used to disperse whatever undesirables exist within one’s immediate environment.”

    – but does no-one else feel that this really is the thin end of the wedge, the slippery slope?

    e.g.

    “…the police and local authorities are becoming increasingly alive to the possibilities offered by the system, which could be fitted in any trouble spots and switched on when suspicious hooded elements begin to gather.”

    I accept there’s no point in arguing with the science behind the device: if someone wanted to drive away wheelchair users one could put in lots of steps, or uneven paving to drive away the infirm – it’s just that there’s little demand for driving away these people. However, once the mindset of “we can design systems arbitrarily to prevent certain types of people doing things” becomes embedded in the authorities’ thinking, frankly, civil liberties have had it. (In part that’s what this very website is about.)

    I’m becoming increasingly hardened against the idea behind the Mosquito. Deliberately causing discomfort to law-abiding people in a public place (i.e. on the pavement) is very different to just having classical music playing on a railway platform to “drive kids away” as has been previously tried.

    Roll on a teenager suing the shopkeeper for hearing damage, I say.

    • Vlad

      well, at the end of the day, it is the teenager who chooses to be in the place where it is being used, so they choose not to do anything to prevent their ears from being damaged. Again it seems that your comments are aimed at providing freedom for the criminals. I wonder what you would think if gangs were hanging outside your property?????

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  11. ian whiteway

    Exactly who is targetted …… the young troublemakers who make up only 1.3 % of the young population. The mother with small child who has forgotten her milk and just popped down to the local shop to get a pint. Or the 3 hard working college students who are working hard to gain a career and qualifications. Or is it targetting the trainee mechanic who has just got his first pay packet and eager to stock up . the answer is all of the above and if the shops feel they want to loose that custom then fool them. The problem doesnt lie in just moving the young (troublesome) element on to a dark alley or to annoy someone else. I think these shops that use these items are solely selfish in thier community spirit. The shops and residents should be working together to develop youth strategies to regenerate play areas and provide facilities and youth shelters designed by young people with thier input. These will gain respect for thier item and will use the facilities given to them. retailers put your money to a purposeful good use and work with these young people listen to them and above all dont tar the other 98% of hard working well behaved teens with the same old tatty no excuse brush.

  12. BaB

    I am sorry to be so honest but sod them.
    If you do not live in an area where these teenagers break things, hit old people, gang up on everybody else, carry weapons, have sex on your doorstep, take drugs in your garden and try to kill you if you call the police then you have little to add to this debate.

    If sorting these scum out affects other people of the same age who are not a problem to the community I am in all honesty not that bothered.

    Why? Well because I know that soon people will be arming themselves and taking to the streets to rid the area of these trouble makers and I would rather your child was annoyed by a noise than hit by a baseball bat.

    These teenagers have gone to far and society is turning against them, anything that can help halt this before I find somebody else breaking into my car will help save a life.
    Times have changed, if those changes haven’t reached you yet, brace yourselves.

  13. ian whiteway

    My job as an Anti Social Behaviour Reduction Officer sees me looking on a daily basis at anything that can “do exactly as it says on the tin”

    “Mosquito” has been badged as a revolutionary new device that has been specifically designed to disperse groups of teenagers from loitering in areas that they are not wanted.
    With an effective range of between fifteen and twenty meters, the field trials have shown that teenagers are acutely aware of the Mosquito and usually move away from the area within just a couple of minutes. I looked into this great idea for an instant cure for a “youth anti social issue”

    It seems that there is a medical phenomenon known as presbycusis or age related hearing loss which, is the loss of hearing that gradually occurs in most individuals as they grow older. Hearing loss is a common disorder associated with ageing. About 30-35 percent of adults between the ages of 65 and 75 years have a hearing loss. It is estimated that 40-50 percent of people 75 and older have a hearing loss.
    According to The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, this begins after the age of 20 but is usually significant only in persons over 65. It first affects the highest frequencies (18 to 20 kHz) notably in those who have turned 20 years of age.
    It is possible to generate this high frequency sound that is audible only to teenagers.

    The Mosquito is essentially a sounder unit that emits a very high (ultra-sonic). The longer someone is exposed to the sound, the more annoying it becomes. Teenagers are acutely aware of the Mosquito and usually move away from the area within just a couple of minutes.

    Sainsburys are amongst Several big retail companies actively using the device and somerfield too are contemplating following. Indeed this week at the ACPO conference it is believed that ACPO themselves will endorse this as a great step in combating Anti social behaviour.

    But the Anti social youth make up 1.3 % of the youth population so is this unit blanketing and tarring all youth with the same brush. What about the young mum on her way into the shops to get a pint of milk, The law abiding trainee mechanic and the two college students aren’t all these affected too. I think it is established that this measure is effective but does it breach Human rights. Does this justify the use of such a tool and will it not just move the problem small percentage of youth into the dark alley where they can cause more alarm to the public. Should these companies not be looking at community unification and working with police and local communities in trying to find alternative places and funding for youth projects. Its well known that these companies thrive well in the communities where their shops are situated.

    I wont be advising anyone to purchase one of these and will be watching closely to see if a young person will be challenging the human rights issue.

    Ian Whiteway

  14. Martin

    If and when this system comes to my area, I will be filing a lawsuit against those who use it and possibly the company that makes it.
    It is most obvious that it descriminates against young people.
    Lets see how they cope when they are bycotted by those 98.7% who do not cause the problems but purchase goods. Anyways, those who cause the trouble will just cause trouble elsewhere. Would make sense to tackle the root causes of the trouble instead?

  15. ian whiteway

    i agree martin drop me your email and watch for a legal challenge from liberty in the next few weeks.

    anti-social-behaviour.co.uk

  16. Alan Bellamy

    Fine words from people obviously not on the receiving end of anti-social behaviour.
    Unfortunately, what the hand-wringing Guardian editorial style tracts utterly fail to grasp is the misery caused by groups of youths allowed to do what they please without consequence.
    The law-abiding young are little affected as they are only exposed for short periods of time and so everyone is free to buy milk.
    Sadly, the human rights brigade are largely to blame for the mess that we are in. We need sense to return.

  17. Mike

    To those who want to sue shopkeepers or landlords who install the device, maybe they should study and understand private property laws. There is nothing illegal about incorporating such a defense against unwanted visitors – IT’S PRIVATE PROPERTY.

  18. peggy

    As an adault who has been assaulted by local thugs with sound machines, I believe they should be illegal. There is no way of knowing who or when you may get hit and sickened by the product.

    What if a honest young/old adault wants to shop longer then picking up a milk carten? I hope your family is not assaulted like mine. It is extremely disturbing to hear a high pitch sound every where I go and at the house. I believe a neighbor (high tech guy) maybe assaulting my house. Forget about a few (1.3) unrulely teen. Everyone should check out a site called "Hornblasters.com" and watch an owner of a horn company assault our local community while he laughs and videos tapes the assaults. Ft. Lauderdale (Florida) police should arrest Hornblasters owner for his assaults that are well documented on the internet.

  19. Long time reader / first time poster. Really enjoying reading the blog, keep up the excellent work. Will most definitely start posting more oftenin the near future.

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