Sally Emerson's Week

Fear of Music
Feb. 4 2002 1:53 PM

Sally Emerson's Week

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The British police have worked out a way to fight crime. Instead of bothering actually putting policemen out on the beat, you play the theme tunes of famous police television series including Hawaii Five-O, The Bill, Dixon of Dock Green, and Z Cars on loudspeakers in town centres. The mere sound strikes terror into the hearts of muggers and robbers and they behave themselves. This is not a joke. This has actually happened and apparently it works. I suppose if some music encourages shoppers to buy more groceries, there could be music to stop robbers feeling like robbing. For £3,500 ($5,000) of government cash, some constables in the West Midlands of Britain whistled a selection of tunes which were recorded and then played every day on loudspeakers in the West Bromwich town centre. The music came from tape recorders hidden behind brickwork and paving slabs. For the month that the scheme was in place, the month before Christmas when street robberies had always been at their worst, there were no reports of any street robberies. "What were once mugging hotspots have become safe parts of an increasingly safe town centre," said Sergeant Dowen, a community beat officer. "People are not afraid to go to those areas any more."

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I was very encouraged by this. My 14-year-old son was mugged before Christmas for a very dodgy mobile phone worth about a pound. It had no back, 10p left on his pay-as-you-go voucher, and a scratched SIM card. But the two slightly older black guys who threatened him and his slightly smaller friend offered to "slice" them both up with their knives if he didn't hand it over. This was in a busy pre-Christmas street, on a Saturday afternoon. My son nonchalantly handed it over, of course, and wasn't at all upset, as all his friends have similar experiences all the time. He said he was amused by the sad expression on the robber's face when he saw the state of the phone. We haven't seen any police around for years. We are told it is because of the problem of terrorist alerts that we don't see them, but in the 10 years I've lived in my street in London I've only once seen a policeman on the beat there. I honestly think they've simply given up. I can see piped music is our only hope. Other effective theme tunes apparently also include the ones from The Magnificent Seven, High Noon, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

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