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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Debate rages on use of sonic anti-social youth deterrent.

14 February, 2008
With shop owners keen to have an effective deterrent against gangs of anti-social teenagers and human rights groups claiming that the latest technology is indiscriminate, there seems no easy solution to the debate on whether it is right to use the ÃâÅ"mosquito".
Shopkeepers, especially owners of small, late night convenience stores, face the serious problem of how to address groups of young people behaving in an anti-social way either on the premises or on the street adjacent to their shops. We would be sticking our heads in the sand if we didn't acknowledge that the problem exists and we'd be placing too high an expectation on the police to respond and deal with every case of young people disrupting retail operations which involves no criminal action but amounts to a significant nuisance.

As part of their range of security systems, Welsh firm, Compound Security Systems, supplies the Mosquito ultrasonic teenage deterrent, a sounder that operates at a frequency only audible to the under 25's and which is so unpleasant that it drives them off the spot. Claiming to have successful installations from Canadian malls to British corner shops, the company describes it as the most effective tool for fighting anti social behaviour.

However, others have different opinions. The civil liberties group, Liberty and the Children's Commissioner both agree that the device re-inforces negative opinions of young people, is indiscriminate in its targeting and demonises children. Their arguments hold water in so much as it is an enforcement tool aimed at a clearly defined sector of society and which requires no training on the part of the operator and has the possibility of being used entirely indiscriminately.

The voice of the retail community in the UK is the British Retail Consortium so I had a discussion with them to gain their views on the matter. With violence against retailers up 50% between 2006 and 2007 and threats of violence doubling, there's clearly a need for some form of deterrent that actually works. The BRC mentioned that there are alternatives which are being tried out such as piped classical music and harsh blue lighting but, according to the BRC, the focus should be on seeking a workable method of reducing the alarming increase in violence towards shopkeepers.

The Association of Convenience Stores represents that part of the retail community that is most vulnerable to violent crime and defends the device, arguing that by using it appropriately and as a last resort, it can provide the effective deterrent that convenience stores need so desperately.

The balanced view of the ACS is hard to argue with and is reflected in the view of many people and organisations who are in favour of the "mosquito". However, recommending appropriate use is a long way from ensuring that the device is only used in appropriate circumstances and this is where the debate should lie.

To address this issue, the manufacturer has issued a draft code of practice to the ACPO, Liberty and the Home Office in order to kick start a debate which will result in sensible progress. So far, however, no-one has taken up the challenge.

Vested interests and reactionary comments impede progress and its hoped that when the dust has settled a little, the poles of opinion can meet and use Compound Security System's draft Code of Practice to sensibly carve out a framework in which the technology can be used effectively without removing the ray of hope from retailers and without giving the solid majority of respectable teenagers another reason to resent the establishment.

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