Anti-loitering sound control trialled

By Sam Hurley

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Christian Meachen of Hastings welcomes the 'mosquito' deterrent.
Christian Meachen of Hastings welcomes the 'mosquito' deterrent.

Hastings District Council is trialing an ultrasonic "Mosquito" device to disperse groups of unruly youths after hours at the city's new skate park.

Testing of the anti-loitering tool will begin next week at the newly opened William Nelson Park in the inner-city.

Council's Parks and Property Services manager Colin Hosford said the device emits a sound set at the high end of the hearing range and will be detectable only to younger people. It works by producing an irritating, high-pitched sound that can be heard by children and people generally under 25-years-old.

Council earlier stated the park would close at 9pm each night to ensure the safety of the community.

"The Mosquito is designed to make it uncomfortable for young people to be in the park after that time. The lighting in the park is also dimmed at that time to make skating less attractive," Mr Hosford said.

Skater Christian Meachen, 16, thought the high frequency device was already installed but welcomed the council initiative.

"It's a good idea to keep the rats and thugs out of this area. Once they hear it they won't want to come back."

Skater Aidan Ward, 18, agreed and said it was a good idea to install the Mosquito in the hope it will preserve the new skate park.

"I think there is already an alarm that goes off after the lights go out. It's a bit rough if it affects your hearing but if it's going to keep the place as it is now, it's a good idea."

Waikato University Associate Professor of human rights law Claire Breen said there was a number of issue with the device regarding children's rights and their right to freedom of association, and their right to peaceful assembly. "The use of the device raises a few issues for the rights of children's and young people," she said. In 2010 an investigation by the Council of Europe found the controversial mosquito should be banned in Britain because it violates legislation prohibiting torture.

The council, which oversees the European Court of Human Rights, said the device contravenes international law prohibiting torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.

It found that "inflicting acoustic pain on young people and treating them as if they were unwanted birds or pests, is harmful [and] highly offensive".

The report also expressed concern its use could constitute a health hazard and lacked adequate medical research.

The device however continues to be used widely in areas of Europe, Britain and America.

Hastings District councillor Sandra Hazlehurst said the Mosquito had been trailled in a number of other parks around the New Zealand with success.

"It is part of our safety in the park strategy. It is a residential area and we don't want people in the park at night.

"It hasn't harmed kids hearing in other places, it's not going to harm them otherwise we wouldn't have put it in."

Mr Hosford described it simply as "an annoying sound".

He said a number of councils in New Zealand and around the world used the device, including Auckland, where it had proved effective. "It's like having a Barry Manilow song playing over and over in the background."

He said there were no negative health effects to those that heard the high pitched frequency and didn't believe the device affected dogs. He wouldn't comment on the potential effects on babies or young children. "We have checked any legal issues with it. It's a bit like CCTV, there will be claims it breaches people's human rights but it is perfectly legitimate and is not breaking any legislation."

He said the three devices have been installed but are not yet operational.

"We are awaiting the supply of some electronic timers for the park lighting circuits that will allow power to be supplied to the device." Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said he hoped the Mosquito would ensure the skate park was a secure location without the need for added security and fencing.

"The police are on board with us and fully support it and have said it is a good way of deterring people from hanging around after it closes at 9pm."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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