SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The Spokane City Council will vote Monday on a law that would ban devices that emit a high-pitched sound to discourage loiterers in the city’s downtown.
City Councilwoman Kate Burke, who crafted the proposal, told the Spokesman Review that the devices are inherently discriminatory because they are used mostly against homeless people and youth who congregate outside businesses.
But businesses are upset by the proposed ban on the high-frequency devices and say their business has been harmed by large groups that congregate in the area. Some businesses have been “overrun by negative activity” associated with loitering, said Mark Richard, president and CEO of the Downtown Spokane Partnership.
“There are times when as a last resort these devices are needed,” Richard said, adding that only a handful of businesses use the devices and do so only in the evening.
Moving Sound Technologies, which produces the so-called Mosquito device, says it emits a high-frequency noise audible to people between 13 and 25 years old. A newer version of the device has a setting that can be heard by people of all ages.
Arguing that they contradict “our goal to create a vibrant and welcoming city,” the legislation outright bans the use of any device “intended to emit into public spaces painful or annoying high-frequency sound intended to be audible only to children and young adults.”
Although the proposal uses the term “Mosquito,” which is a specific brand, it would apply to any type of similar device.
The first violation of the ordinance would result in a civil infraction, but the second violation would be cited as a misdemeanor if it occurs within a year of the first.
“How do we want to solve this problem? Do we want to push people out of these areas, or do we want to invest in them?” Burke asked.
Councilwoman Lori Kinnear acknowledged the noises “were painful,” but said she doesn’t want the devices removed from downtown until there is another solution in place for controlling loitering.
NAI Black has employed noise-emitting devices specifically targeting young people and homeless individuals outside its three downtown businesses, said Thomas Hix, the company’s vice president of commercial property management.
Hix said tenants have threatened to leave because of the homeless population downtown.
“These Mosquitoes don’t hurt anybody,” Hix said. “We have companies that start work at 5 a.m., 6 a.m., and they were not comfortable with these people just hanging around and walking by them.”