Wagner sends pickpockets flying

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The Independent US

Not so long ago, the streets of Vallejo resonated with the hip-hop beat of bands such as Wu-Tang Clan and Coolio De Unda Dog. For years, hip-hop and rap were about the only things going for this crime-ridden post-industrial town just off the main road from San Francisco to the Napa Valley.

Not so long ago, the streets of Vallejo resonated with the hip-hop beat of bands such as Wu-Tang Clan and Coolio De Unda Dog. For years, hip-hop and rap were about the only things going for this crime-ridden post-industrial town just off the main road from San Francisco to the Napa Valley.

But now gentrification beckons, and the city fathers have hit on an intriguing method for clearing undesirables from the near-deserted downtown area: blast them with arias from opera.

Every day from 5am to 11pm a music system hidden near a bus terminal pumps out Wagner, Puccini and Mozart to scare away drug-dealers, prostitutes, pickpockets and petty larcenists. Astonishingly, Luciano Pavarotti and "Nessun dorma" are apparently achieving what two decades of intensive policing have not.

"It really seems to work," city spokesman Mark Mazzaferro told the San Francisco Chronicle last week. "We don't have exact numbers yet. But people already feel safer. There's a real difference." The pilot scheme has been so successful that it will be expanded to cover 10 blocks of downtown Vallejo.

Nobody quite knows why it works, but it does. Since 1985, when a 7-11 store in Vancouver experimented with classical music to deter loitering teenagers, shops and businesses have been using the technique across North America. Montreal and Toronto have registered lower crime rates on their underground train systems since they began piping in the classics. Last year New York tried it out at the Port Authority bus terminal to chase away vagrants.

The remedy may not be entirely magic. In most cases, the classical music has accompanied other, more aggressive gentrification and anti-vagrancy pushes, usually in a climate of promising economic prospects. That is certainly true of Vallejo.

The city has largely been held back by a flurry of widely publicised violent crimes. In the past year much ink has been spilled over a missing eight-year-old girl, a murdered police officer and another young girl who was kidnapped and raped before finally escaping her attacker.

Some of the crime has been directly linked to Vallejo's music scene. Rapper Mac Dre was recently convicted for a bank robbery, and local music producer Sean Andre Beattie faces charges of cocaine trafficking.

But, overall, violent crime has dropped markedly. Given Vallejo's position on the cusp of wine country, just an hour's drive from Oakland and San Francisco, its future as a dormitory community for affluent city workers seems all but assured. The classical music may just be hurrying the process along.

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