Mozart vs. the thugs

Classical tunes signal to thugs that they don’t belong in a given environment
Josh Dehaas
Mozart vs. the thugs
Getty Images

Police in Christchurch, New Zealand (pop. 348,000), say they’ve reduced crime in the city’s pedestrian mall from 77 incidents per week in October 2009 to just two per week a year later—by piping Mozart through loudspeakers. But the Press newspaper, which carried the report, sent Pop Tart, its music critic, to eat her lunch there and conduct her own study of whether classical music was making the site safer. “I had only just sat down when a thug hovered into view,” she writes. “ ‘Give us a bite,’ thug said. Mindless Mozart playing around us, thug punched the tree behind my head and then walked off.” Then two teen girls began brawling. Pop Tart concluded that anti-social acts were still happening, but that there were just fewer shoppers left at the boring mall to harass.

Musicologist Lily E. Hirsch has, however, documented successful police efforts to shoo away hooligans with music. But how does it work? The best theory is that classical tunes signal to thugs that they don’t belong in a given environment. But it seems strange that the earliest example Hirsch noted was a handful of 7-Eleven stores in British Columbia that used classical music to scare off loitering teens in 1985. If Mozart and Bach signal to teens that they don’t belong at 7-Eleven, who will buy the chain’s Slurpees?