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Vandalism prevention device causing buzz

The
The 'mosquito' emits a high-pitch sound, only audible to teenagers and children. It is installed at three Maple Ridge school to repel vandals.
— image credit: Compound Security Systems

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association wants school boards to remove Mosquito noise devices installed to keep vandals off school property.

The Mosquito Ultrasonic Teen Repellent system emits a constant high-pitched frequency that is generally not audible to adults, but annoying to teenagers and children.

The association has written to the Vancouver School Board, asking for a ban of the anti-vandalism devices and intends to send letters expressing similar concerns, to school districts across the province that use the Mosquito.

SD 42 was one of the first school districts in B.C. to install the Mosquito five years ago at the former Riverside elementary.

“Do we live in a society where we condone the infliction of pain or discomfort as a means of social control?” asks Michael Vonn, policy director with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

“We would not allow teachers or other staff to inflict pain on a student who is breaking rules. Should we let our technology do that?”

The devices have been found by the European Union to be a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, but have been approved by Health Canada and do not violate municipal noise bylaws.

Championed as a “cost-effective” tool to keep vandals off school property, the company which manufactures the Mosquito claims that it is perfectly safe on the ears, even after long exposure.

The BCCLA, however, sees the device as “discriminatory” because it targets a set of people.

“We use the language of device here, but a device whose for which the purpose is to inflict pain is called a weapon,” says Vonn, who would like school districts to turn off ‘mosquitoes’ until there has been a proper discussion about alternatives to deter vandalism.

Vonn added the association is not minimizing concerns about vandalism and the complaints from parents about broken bottles and hypodermic needles on school grounds.

“Our position is we don’t effectively deal with property crime through a human rights violation.”

After-hours vandalism costs the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District about $300,000 a year in direct costs and much more in indirect costs.

With two months left in the 2011-2012 school year, the district has recorded 585 incidents of vandalism, compared to 720 the previous year. The statistics show a steady decline from the 2007/08 school year, when vandalism peaked with 1,248 incidents reported.

Besides the former Riverside, the local school district has installed the Mosquito at Maple Ridge secondary, Thomas Haney secondary and Maple Ridge elementary.

The devices run on a timer and are automatically turned on at 10 p.m., then turned off at 6 a.m.

The district also has signs posted at all schools that clearly indicate no trespassing on school property between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

School district communications manager Irena Pochop said before the Mosquito was installed, there was a public consultation process to ensure that the community understood what these devices were and why they were being installed.

Besides the Mosquito, the district uses several other innovative security systems to keep people off school property, including a Tripwire system, which takes a high resolution photograph of trespassers when they cross an invisible laser and motion-sensitive sprinklers, which drench anyone who comes near the school with close to 20 litres of water per minute.

For now, the district has no plans on removing the Mosquito.

“We have received no complaints about these devices, which have been able to address some of the vandalism issues we were facing,” said Pochop.

The district parent advisory committee however intends to bring the concerns expressed by the BCCLA to the attention of the district superintendent at a meeting in June.

Committee chair Michelle La Rose said although there was consultation before the devices were installed, parents now have more questions.

“Some of my concerns would be how far outside the actual school grounds does the device emit. It is something we definitely need to get a grasp on,” added La Rose.

• Hear the 'Mosquito Device' at

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