Column Date 2006-01-23

Crime wave? Call Mozart.

The solution to crime in America is staring us right in the face, if only we’re smart enough to recognize it.

Now this is a radical, somewhat bizarre, solution and you’ve got to cast off your prejudices and approach it with a completely open mind. Here it is:

Music can reduce our crime rate. That’s right, music. This is not some pie-in-the-sky, academic theory – it’s been tested in England, and it works.

‘Aural Policing,’ they call it over there. They’ve already installed it in the London Underground, where thirty tube stations now play Mozart and Haydn over their loudspeakers. This kind of music, for some reason, seems to deter vandals and stop people from loitering around the stations. And, as a result, the crime rate goes down.

And which musical selections drive people away most effectively? “Anything sung by Luciano Pavarotti, and anything written by Mozart,” a spokesman for London Transport told The Economist recently.

According to Adrian North, a psychologist at Leicester University, the reason this works is unfamiliarity. In other words, when people are unfamiliar with certain music, they feel uncomfortable and leave.

So if a would-be criminal loves rap music, for instance, Mozart will make him crazy and he’ll leave the scene of the potential crime.

When you think about it, it all makes sense in a goofy kind of way. To put a personal twist on it: I happen to love both Pavarotti and Mozart. But rap drives me up the wall. Waiting for a train in an underground station where the loudspeakers are blaring loud rap music would find me searching desperately for the nearest exit.

What we have here, friends, is possibly the ultimate self-protection weapon in history. Who needs handguns or knives or assault weapons when we’ve got music?

Just think of it: by merely carrying around a small tape recorder (or your iPod with those tiny, portable speakers), you can blast out grand opera and classical music and be safe and secure no matter where you go.

Walking in a dangerous neighborhood? Flip on some Verdi or Puccini. A few choruses of ‘Traviata’ or ‘Gianni Schicchi’ will clear an average sidewalk for blocks.

Worried about some large guys lurking around your ATM machine? Switch to some 20th-century electronic music, like John Cage, and watch the felons scatter!

Too many drunken rowdies around you at the ball game? Play some atonal string quartets and you’ll clear out the right field stands in minutes.

Hopefully, the folks at the Pentagon are watching all this carefully.

To give them a little help, I priced a 1500-watt stereo that can easily be jeep-mounted at around $850, including a six-CD changer and really loud superwoofers. A few jeeps like this could form a “Beethoven Brigade” and empty a hostile village in an hour.

“Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast,” William Congreve, the 17th century playwright, wrote. Now we know that music can also drive the savage beast right out of our neighborhood*.

*He actually wrote “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” But this being a family newspaper, we went with the popular misquote.

©2005 Peter Tannen