Using Classical Music to Fight Crime

Here’s why you might start hearing more Bach and Mozart in public places.

By Jessie Schiewe

Photo: Flickr/ Portland Seminary

Photo: Flickr/Portland Seminary

Liquor stores are some of the most dangerous places to work in the U.S. Robberies are a constant threat and the establishments can be magnets for sketchy folk. Now, many convenience stores are trying an experimental stratagem to deter unwanted activity and loitering around their stores: blasting classical music.

It’s a tactic that’s been used since the mid-1980s, introduced by a 7-Eleven in Canada looking for a novel way to deter teenagers from congregating in their parking lot. A melodic form of defensive urban design, it’s since been tested out in other physical locations to combat loiterers, panhandlers, and those looking for a place to nap.

Customers report feeling safer in stores that play classical music outdoors. (Photo:  Mohammad Sanaei )

Customers report feeling safer in stores that play classical music outdoors. (Photo: Mohammad Sanaei)

The London Underground has dabbled with streaming classical music and Florida police have played Mozart and Bach on the corners of crime-ridden streets. Multiple businesses in San Francisco, California — a city that struggles with a large homeless population — have piped it through outdoor speakers to stop people from using the sidewalks as crash pads, leaving behind blankets and drug detritus in front of their stores.

What’s wonderful is that the non-confrontational tactic works. Sukhi Sandhu, the owner of a 7-Eleven franchise in Modesto, California, told the Modesto Bee that once his store started blaring symphonies and operas through its outdoor speakers, “The riffraff left.” The high volume of the music makes it hard for loiterers “to hang out and gossip and joke around” outside of the store. Customers feel safer as a result, Sandhu said, describing it as “a win-win situation.”  

(Photo:  Larisa Birta )

(Photo: Larisa Birta)

Classical music’s crime-deterrent effects can also be explained through physics. When you hear a song, you’re essentially hearing vibrations and absorbing them through your body. The vibrations are turned into electrical signals that are received by your brain, which influences how you may feel emotionally and mentally.

Songs with slower vibrations, such as classical music, have been shown to activate genes that secrete dopamine (the feel-good hormone), as well as help improve learning, synaptic function, and memory. So when store clerks have to ask panhandlers to leave, the theory is they’ll be in a better mood and thus less likely to put up a fight.

Liquor stores also sometimes employ a device that emits a high-pitched screech, similar to that of a mosquito buzzing in your air, to ward off loitering and unwanted activity. Sandhu said he’s tried both and has found classical music to be the more effective (not to mention less annoying) method.