A New Approach to Physical Security: Combining Blue Light and Music

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A New Approach to Physical Security: Combining Blue Light and Music

In my physical security consulting business I recently consulted with the owner of a strip mall concerned with transients loitering in the evening hours and sometimes aggressively panhandling. This small strip mall consisted of 11 small businesses – a 24-hour “Quick Mart,” a hair and nail salon, a tattoo parlor, tax preparation business, deli, and the like. The owner posted NO TRESPASSING and NO LOITERING signs but they proved to be ineffective and gave patrons a sense that there was a problem which made some feel edgy. At one point the mall owner even hired a security officer to patrol the parking lot during evening hours. This was effective but the cost of hiring security was significant and not something the owner felt he could sustain. Furthermore, the owner did not like the image of a uniformed security officer moving people along. He wanted a less expensive, long term solution that did not make patrons feel uneasy.

Security solutions must support business operations and strategically align with business goals

The first step in solving any security problem is to conduct a systematic inquiry and really understand exactly what the problem is. Sounds logical and simple – and sometimes it is. But you would be surprised how many times people perceive problems inaccurately and as a result spend expensive time and effort creating elaborate solutions that are not cost effective. From a business perspective, all security solutions must be cost effective and simple to deploy and maintain.

While assessing the extent of the problem I conferred with all of the business owners and managers and even talked to some long time customers. Then, I spent many nights watching the parking lot. Frankly, I did not witness any big transient problem but even a few unsavory people hanging around can make patrons and business owners uneasy. What I did notice was that most of the of the “undesirables” were congregating at the far end of the parking lot near several park style benches that were popular with the noon time lunch crowd. Most did not congregate for hours and hours, but because this mall was near a major suburban thoroughfare, as soon as they left it didn’t take long for others to show up.

Clearly, there was a need to use some Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles and alter the composition of the environment in this area to deter the “undesirables.”

Blue lights combined with music

A while back I wrote an article “Outdoor Security Lighting: Consider Going Blue” about how blue lighting could be used to deter criminal and undesirable behavior in specific circumstances.  The use of blue lighting is something I now recommend more and more in my physical consulting business, because in targeted areas it is simple, inexpensive, and it works!

In this case, I recommended that the typical white outdoor flood lights illuminating the area around the park benches be replaced with blue flood lights. All other areas of the mall parking lot should continue using the typical white light. The blue lights were put on a motion sensor so when someone entered the area around the park benches, the blue lights were automatically activated and immediately flooded the target area with BRIGHT blue illumination creating a highly visible contrast from the rest of the mall.

Additionally, I recommended the installation of strategically situated outdoor speakers. As soon as the blue lights were activated, classical music would start and continue in 10 minute intervals. The music was loud enough so that anyone loitering in the target area could clearly hear it (in fact it was a little bit louder than what a normal hearing person would be comfortable with) but patrons at other areas of the mall could only hear it in the distance if they were really paying attention.

Classical Music? Really?

Yes! There is empirical and anecdotal evidence that suggests music can influence many aspects of human behavior. The United States military has used heavy metal music to “soften” up prisoners for interrogations. Music has also been used in retail marketing.  Retail marketing experts report that music can help shape customers’ time perception, lower sales resistance and can increase a customer’s willingness to spend. Market research shows that music can affect sales, and large merchandisers spend a lot of money to determine the best music for their intentions. Fast music encourages speed from customer for high turnaround, while less tempo music slows them down and makes them spend more.

For those scholarly readers who like to delve deeply into scientific research, I suggest taking the time to view and listen to a discussion by Dr. Jacqueline Helfgott, of Seattle University. Published by the Library of Congress entitled, “Music and the Brain: Music, Criminal Behavior, and Crime Prevention.”  This discussion can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFTjfsEy27Y

Reports from around the United States and the world suggest music can be used to deter crime. This is not really new news. In 2003, London began piping classical music into its public transit system as part of a pilot program. According to reports, robberies dropped by a third, assaults by a quarter and vandalism by 37 percent within 18 months of implementation. Experiments have also been conducted in Sidney, Australia, Newark New Jersey, Portland Oregon, Los Angeles and a number of other cities with similar results.

No one seems to really know why Bach, Chopin, Beethoven and other classical masterpieces, as well as smooth jazz, seem to dissuade crime, but there are several theories. Some believe that the music sooths listeners, making them more easy going and docile, but most believe that the sounds of classical music and smooth jazz flowing out of speaker systems drive away the most common perpetrators of most forms of deviant behavior – drug dealers, gang members, and vagrants.

Classical music and smooth jazz being projected through train stations, bus terminals and other forms of public transportation are so far from the mainstream music to which most listen that those who are hanging around (loitering) without a purpose simply elect to vacate the area.

West Palm Beach police even tested the theory by placing a CD player and speakers in an abandoned building in a high-crime area. From February to June calls reporting drug deals in the area dropped from 20 to four, compared to the same time period the year before, even though vandals damaged the speakers and the power meter in an effort to stop the “annoying” music.  It took three weeks for police to reinstall the system and bring back the soothing sounds to the neighborhood. Of course, police acknowledged that less-desirable elements probably just moved to different areas, but it definitely seemed to work in that location.


How effective different types of music – classical, soft jazz, Barry Manilow, heavy metal, etc. are in deterring specific types of crime or simply undesirable behavior has not been studied much.  Neither has the use of bright blue light in a security setting. Clearly, blue light coupled with music is not applicable to all security situations, but in some circumstances I have found it to be a practical, cost effective, and “business friendly” part of any overall security strategy. It may sound a little unconventional but as long as I continue to see results, I will continue to recommend it to my clients when appropriate.


George Babnick
George W. Babnick, is a 34 year law enforcement veteran with an extensive background in physical security, criminal and administrative investigations, training, school policing, supervision and management, and criminal forensics. He recently retired as a Captain in the Portland Oregon Police Bureau where he managed the Training, School Police, and Forensic Evidence Divisions. He holds criminal justice degrees from Portland Community College and Portland State University and a law degree from Northwestern California University School of Law, Sacramento California.

Mr. Babnick is a longtime member of the Western Society of Criminology and is the author of articles on security and law enforcement, investigations, supervision and management, and risk management related to these subjects.

As a physical security expert, George Babnick provides private physical security consultations across the United States and consults with clients outside the United States. He specializes in assessing security problems for small and medium businesses as well as select individuals. He offers independent, honest advice and expertise, with the goal of providing all clients with practical and cost-effective security solutions to enhance security and effectively manage business and personal security risks.

Mr. Babnick is also a licensed Private Investigator and conducts investigations for attorneys, businesses, and individuals throughout the State of Oregon.

To learn more about security consultation and investigative services offered, please visit http://babnickandassociates.com

Disclaimer: Nothing in any article on this blog should be construed as legal advice. Persons seeking legal advice should seek the counsel of an attorney licensed in their state.
  • Veronica Ruggiero

    I absolutely love this. I really didn’t know the effect that blue lights and classical music had on crime rates, but I do believe it. Certain things do trigger certain behaviors. As a teacher, I have been taught to not wear red while teaching. Supposedly, red triggers the emotion of anger or frustration in students. Like you said, there isn’t enough evidence to support the effects of colors on the brain, but if it works then I say keep going for it. Classical music could also be considered as soothing, which could be why the crime rate goes down. Very interesting concepts!

    • Alice

      I agree, Veronica!

      I knew about the emotional effects of colors and music on students… never thought about the application to lowering the crime rate. Fascinating.

  • Andrea Robinson

    This seems very practical and pleasant. I was familiar with the idea that music could be used to soothe people. The YouTube discussion suggested at least four different reasons why music could have that effect, while I always attributed the calming effect to the soothing vibes of the music itself.

    I was wondering why using blue light in particular worked. In this application, it seems that the blue light was a way of “calling out” the presence of someone in the area that was not used by the mainstream customers in the evenings. Perhaps it made the people feel conspicuous and that’s why they moved along. Perhaps the color heightened that effect because it was simply different than the usual white. Also, they may have had the feeling they were being watched because of the motion detectors.

    I wonder if red or another color of light would have the same effect. To me, blue has always been soothing just as smooth jazz or various classical styles are soothing.

    Maybe it’s just a matter of taste. For whatever the reason, I think that the simplicity and practicality of the technique overshadow any uncertainty as to why it works.


  • Jenny

    Wow, crazy. I had no idea that mood settings could have this type of effect on crime. I wonder how colors/music affect premeditated crime — I feel like someone isn’t going to go in with a crime planned and then say never mind, I’m in a good mood now…

    awesome pic, by the way.

  • Maddie Mahoney

    This is an excellent and practical idea. I appreciated the information that was given to back it up, as well. I had no idea that these things could help with loitering until now! I find this very interesting and useful, as I’m sure many others do, too. When I initially began reading it, I was skeptical about the idea that blue lights and jazz music would be a solution but after reading further on and seeing the facts you presented, I’m convinced!

  • If classical music can help a baby in the womb then it surely has great benefits but I have never thought about using it to deter crime. The use of blue floodlights sounds strange but I’m sure the combination of both of these techniques could be effective. I like the idea of trying something new and since there has been actual positive research with results about classical music being piped through the public transit system in London and behavioral research with blue lights I think it would not hurt to try.

  • alee_10

    Okay, this is something very interesting! Its a brilliant idea and I applaud the person who came up with this. Blue light goes tent to have a passive kind of effect where people get a positive vibe. If it workds, why not give it a try?

  • arob_32

    This is really interesting. I knew about the music thing. My school used to play classical music over the intercom in the mornings to get us to focus more.

    I’ve also been thinking about the lighting in my room. Now that I’ve read this maybe I will put a blue filter on my lights:-)