When we launched our campaign against ultrasonic alarms (more popularly known as ‘mosquito boxes’) we hoped that many people would share our sense of concern that young people could be targeted in this way. Many people did. But looking at the several thousand people who joined in website debates on the BBC and elsewhere, it’s equally clear many people reckon the alarms are an acceptable response to antisocial behaviour. We think that is profoundly wrong – so let me step back and explain.Ultrasonic devices emit an irritating high-pitched sound that is inaudible to most people over the age of 25, but almost unbearable to young ears. They are used to deter young people from ‘hanging around’ shops and businesses because they simply won’t be able to stand the noise.A group of young people from Corby were so concerned about the use of these alarms in their home town that they created their own pressure group: Buzz Off. ‘I’ve never heard a noise like it,’ said Lewis Davison, 17. ‘It’s like a really high-pitched noise and, if anything, it feels like it’s inside your head. Even when you’ve walked away from it, you can sort of still hear it in the back of your head and you don’t know if you’re still hearing the same one or whether another one’s kicked in.’The main aim of Buzz Off’s campaign, which is now being supported by the National Youth Agency, 11 Million (the office of the Children’s Commissioner) and Liberty, is to get all such devices – and there’s reckoned to be some 3,500 of them around – switched off. But most importantly, it’s also about persuading councils and police forces that there are far more effective methods of tackling anti-social behaviour. Given the nature of the alarms, it’s hard to blame the majority of law-abiding young people if they feel discriminated against. It’s not surprising if it leads to further alienation from the community they live in, or if it pushes them into other potentially unsafe areas. But this is not a simplistic ‘we know our rights’ campaign.The whole point is to continue to involve all sections of the community in developing more effective ways of preventing anti-social behaviour – that’s what the Corby group are doing with their local Groundwork project and that’s why we are supporting them. Charmain Warren, 21, is an eloquent spokesperson for the group and she put it like this: ‘We want to make clear that we’re not doing this campaign just because we’re young people and we don’t like the sound of these devices. We’re working towards stopping all forms of anti-social behaviour. Alcohol may be the biggest factor in causing anti-social behaviour and certainly the mosquito devices aren’t going to solve that.‘Also, they have a very limited range so if you’ve got someone intent on crime all they’re going to do is move down the road and do it. We want to work with councils, with the police and with the older generation as well as other young people to tackle all anti-social behaviour. After all, we don’t like going to the shops and being intimidated by troublemakers either.’Yes, these devices are discriminatory. Yes, they are an affront to human rights. But furthermore, we believe that they offer no solutions to the problems they purport to tackle and will ultimately be proven to be counterproductive. We can and must do better. Fiona Blacke is the Chief Executive of the National Youth Agency.
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