The Co-operative Group is tackling anti-social behaviour by broadcasting classical music through speakers outside its stores to drive away troublemakers and the quirky scheme has achieved outstanding results.
The group's national business crime partnership manager Andy Pope was keen to trial the idea, having heard about its success in Canada. In 2004 a pilot scheme was conducted in nine Co-op stores around the country, where different types of music were blasted out of the speakers to see which, if any, had an effect.
"We tried hip hop, classical - all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff," says Pope. "But classical stood out as the best."
The scheme has certainly seen some great results. In the original trial of nine stores, there was a 21% decrease in reported crime. A post implementation review of another 43 stores showed a 67% reduction, and the 105 stores it has now been rolled out to reported a 70% reduction in overall crime.
But Pope isn't satisfied with statistics alone. "I'm not bothered about sales - I just want my staff to feel confident and happy. Crime figures don't tell the whole story, which is why we are firm believers in talking to staff," he claims. "They get desensitised to crime and don't report it, so sometimes perception can be more accurate."
The Co-op also carried out an extensive perception survey of management and staff and found that 89% felt the classical music had reduced anti-social behaviour externally and 49% felt it had reduced anti-social behaviour
The method is efficient, because while older shoppers are oblivious to Sonata in C, youths who cause trouble outside the stores are not fans and leave the area to get away from the sound.
However, whether or not Mozart himself would have approved of the scheme is debatable. He was once quoted as saying: "Music should never be painful to the ear, but should flatter and charm it, and thereby always remain music."
And there are a number of others with reservations about the project. "We've had heated arguments with various music people who suggest we're trying to put people off classical music," says Pope. "That's really not the case, but you have to deal with the matter realistically. It's very difficult to tackle anti-social behaviour and this is an effective method."
The Co-op has invested £100,000 in the scheme so far, with each system costing £645 to install. But the positive media coverage gained from the project easily outweighs the initial investment.
The system is also extremely cheap to operate, making it preferable to other security alternatives. "If there was a store robbery then we'd want to reassure staff by putting in a guard for a limited period," says Pope. "But it costs £40,000 a year and that can make or break a store, so security guards aren't the be all and end all.
"Playing classical music is inexpensive and it means the staff feel confident because they are taking action. If you can keep your staff, that means less recruitment and less training, so it saves money in the long run."
Sales have also grown in many stores as a result of the scheme. "We were able to prove that sales of basic commodities such as bread and milk increased," says Pope. "People are using the store more because they feel safer."
The bigger picture
Of course, the system isn't always guaranteed to work. "Sometimes the kids sit outside stores pretending to be in orchestras, some even dance," says Pope. "Sometimes it works straight away, sometimes it doesn't, but if you can break the 'usual place' to meet, then you're on your way."
Even though the youths can cause a lot of bother with swearing, smoking and shoplifting, ensuring the safety of those loitering outside the stores is also a priority, claims Pope. "There are issues with safety - we don't want to move kids from a lit building to a dark alley," he says. "We work with the police and they tell the youths where they can congregate.
"Classical music is an effective tool in crime prevention, but in some cases not in isolation and a partnership approach with the police is key to resolving issues in difficult areas."
This approach is in stark contrast to previous strategies. "Four or five years ago there was us and the police - we'd be hitting each other over the head and making little progress," says Pope.
"Then I started working with the them and we soon realised a
co-operative approach worked. Now we concentrate on tackling crime with a united front."
Down to a tea
The group is encouraging a high in-store police presence by providing tea stops for officers in 12 of its Welsh branches through the 'It's a Fair Co-op of Tea, Guv' scheme. "The project is designed to foster and strengthen relationships between local businesses, the community and the police," says the Co-op's operational risk area manager Jayne Phillips.
Project ArcAngel sees four stores in Cheshire working with police to tackle alcohol-related crime caused by youths. The scheme involves identifying hot spots and vulnerable areas for alcohol-related anti-social behaviour. Alcohol thought to appeal to youths is branded with the ArcAngel logo and shelf barkers (pictured) warn customers against proxy sales.
Caught on camera
Staff at seven stores in Chelmsford phone officers directly to report minor crimes, recorded on CCTV. Several arrests have been made and a number of Neighbourhood Action Panels have been launched where local businesses and residents can discuss key issues.