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Merchants in Britain Give Young Loiterers an Earful

This kind of talk remains popular politically. Since coming into power in 1997, the Labor Party government has dished out more than 10,000 Anti-Social Behavior Orders, a sort of restraining order that can be issued to children as young as 10 for causing "harassment, alarm or distress."

But even if the mood did shift, it would be unlikely that campaigners could squash the Mosquito quickly. For starters, the units, being inconspicuous and inaudible to many people, are difficult for campaigners to find.

Officials of the Mosquito's manufacturer, Compound Security Systems, said their clients range from corner stores to cemeteries to construction sites. But they said it's still difficult to know, because they can be heard only by young people. That's harder to detect than the more traditional Barry Manilow method of discouraging teenage loiterers by playing opera or other music that they consider unhip.

Several police officers have said during the recent furor that they are fans of the Mosquitoes. Officers in Merseyside, a county in the northwest of England, patrol the streets with what they call a mosquito vehicle that allows them to break up unruly groups with a high-pitched sound. An official with the force said it reduced disruptive behavior by 60 percent in some areas.

James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, which represents 33,000 local shops, said retailers find it a "very useful tool" for combating vandalism and crime.

Rej Parshad, 53, has owned Reynolds, a grocery store nestled in a run-down mini-mall, for 20 years and said he has never seen anything quite as effective for dispersing young people. Two years ago, he affixed the box, which has a picture of a mosquito bug on it, a few feet above the entrance to his store.

He estimated that petty crime has decreased 80 percent. He balked at the idea that he was infringing on human rights. Youngsters loiter outside his shop and pester customers to buy them alcohol and cigarettes, he said.

"They harass customers, and I lose business," Parshad said. "You can't keep everybody happy. You have to look after the customer first."

Natalie Saunders, manager at Martin's Newsagent, a store three doors down from Reynolds, said she had no idea that a screech of about 85 decibels, the level of city traffic, filled the air outside for five hours every night. "I didn't even know it was here," she mused. She is 25.

When asked about the device, Laura Cook, 17, scrunched up her face and called it a "horrible thing" that didn't work particularly well because many teenagers just put up with it.

One woman who was happy to hear the buzzing: Cook's mother, Trina, 39. The only ambient noise she could hear on this particular evening was birds chirping nearby. But the other day she went into Reynolds and heard a "high-pitched whistle that cracks."

"I must be getting younger," she said with a laugh.

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