East Multnomah County state Rep. Jefferson Smith, D-Portland, has introduced a bill to require TriMet to broadcast classical music at MAX light-rail stations in high-crime areas. (You can look up House Bill 2909 here.)
The jokes are swirling already. Would you like a little Vivaldi with that mugging? Maybe it’s more like, I’d like to harass that innocent bystander but this Chopin is making me feel so mellow. Or even, this classical music is so annoying that I’m going to take my trouble-making self elsewhere.
But scoffing aside, PolitiFact Oregon was intrigued by a statement Smith made to The Oregonian’s Michelle Cole. A test last month at the MAX station at 162nd Avenue and Burnside, he said, saw "crime was down 41 percent from the December a year ago."
We checked with the representative’s office, who directed us to the Portland Police Bureau for the results. Portland Police Sgt. Pete Simpson confirmed -- as does this online post by Portland Police Sgt. John Scruggs -- that TriMet installed a classical music system at that light-rail station on Nov. 16. Simpson said there is no official report, but the numbers are as follows:
From Nov. 16, 2009 to Dec. 16, 2009, there were 46 calls for service.
From Nov. 16, 2010 to Dec. 16, 2010, there were 27 calls for service.
The math is correct. There is a 41 to 42 percent difference in the number of service calls between the time periods.
But a call for service doesn’t necessarily indicate criminal activity. A service call can be for anything from disorderly conduct to a fare check, Simpson said. They can be generated by an officer who decides to check out a station, or by someone calling in a request for help.
And this is why Sgt. Scruggs was more careful in his post: "The first month of data for our attempt has shown a 42% reduction in calls for service at 162nd/ Burnside. We are going to do a more comprehensive study soon."
"I think it’s a good indication that it’s working, but it’s early numbers, early stats," Scruggs said in an interview.
In his interview with Cole, Smith readily acknowledged that statistics based on one month merit more review. He stressed the numbers were preliminary. This week, his legislative assistant forwarded more information from Scruggs that show a 40 percent reduction in calls for service at that stop over a two-month period. Three other stops without classical music showed increases in service calls. Again, this is all early data.
PolitiFact Oregon enjoys classical music. If it actually helps reduce crime at light-rail stations, that’s great, but we’re not weighing in on that broader question. Our focus is on the recent test. In an interview with PolitiFact Oregon, Smith said he may have used the two terms -- "crime" and "service calls" -- interchangeably when talking to Cole, inaccurately conflating the two.
We rate the claim Mostly True -- accurate but needing just a little bit of clarification.
Source is more editorial than news-y, but still an interesting concept to consider.