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Cities using bird recordings to reduce crime

In Columbia, since 2009, there has been a drop in larceny theft throughout the city.

Feb. 14, 2012

An experiment in Lancaster, Calif. has found some unexpected results when it comes to the sound of chirping birds and crime prevention.

After purchasing sound bytes of various songbirds from a sound consultant in London and combing them with soothing music, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris had the recording play from speakers placed along the main streets of Lancaster.

Crime rates in the city have dropped significantly since the bird recordings began their song. Minor crime has fallen 15 percent and major crimes have decreased 6 percent, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

The recording has been calming the people of Lancaster, Parris said, making them less inclined to act criminally.

"We're not seeing that impulse-control crime," Parris said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. "It has just been astonishing to us how the community has changed as a result of a one-half-mile stretch.”

Eileen Bjornstrom, an MU associate professor of sociology, did not rule out the possibility of the chirping having some affect, but she said there could be other reasons for the trend in Lancaster.

“Crime has been declining in many places for a while now, including Lancaster.” Bjornstrom said. “If they were already experiencing a decline, the continued decline may have continued regardless of the chirping. This is not to say there is no value in the chirping. If people like it, then it probably does no harm and it may put those who enjoy it in a better mood, but that is an issue that is separate from whether it reduces crime or not.”

Columbia has been following the nationwide pattern. Since 2009, there has been a drop in larceny theft throughout the city.

While Bjornstrom had never heard of any studies that connected pleasant sounds to criminal tendencies, she did know of a few that discussed the effects of unpleasant sounds.

“Persistent unpleasant neighborhood noise has been related to health because it can be stressful,” she said, referencing car horns, police sirens or gunshots. “Excessive unpleasant noise may tend to occur in the same places as crime, but it would likely be because the areas that do not have strong informal social control are less able to control both crime and excessive noise, not because noise causes crime.”

Some MU students said they thought the bird initiative could be plausible.

“It seems like their might be some soothing aspects to having bird music played in the streets, but at the same time, I don’t know if there’s much science to back it up,” freshman Aaron Kressig said.

Others were not convinced.

“I think it’s a waste of money,” freshman James Benoist said. “If you put chirping noises in downtown St. Louis it wouldn’t have any effect.”

Some students, such as sophomore Michael Derstine, thought the idea was ridiculous.

“I don’t think that it’s valid,” Derstine said. “Even if there is a small chance that there’s a correlation between the two, there’s no evidence to prove it is the cause.”

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Article comments

Feb. 14, 2012 at 11:49 a.m.

Mayor R Rex Parris: It is a combination of bird sounds, nature sounds and music that beats at the same rate as the human heart in a relaxed state. The science is robust that it lowers cortisol levels. The lowering of cortisol levels in the brain enhances self control.

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