Mosquito sonic device

Mosquito devices ‘on pause’ in Philadelphia as Parks & Rec plans audit

The sound is like “a paper cut in your ear.”

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY and Billy Penn

Despite widespread outrage over the Mosquito devices installed in Philly parks — from city residents, public officials and people around the country — another one was slated to be installed later this year. Not anymore.

The Department of Parks and Recreation has put all installations of the sonic youth repellents on hold, pending a comprehensive internal review.

The review aims to determine the effectiveness of the device — which blares a high-pitched ringing noise to keep teens away — and whether the city should continue using it at public spaces in the future.

“We’re on a pause right now,” Parks & Rec Commissioner Kathryn Ott-Lovell said on WHYY’s Radio Times. “We hear the public feedback we’ve received and the media coverage, and we’re doing a pause on all future installations.”

It’ll be a “comprehensive” process, per spokesperson Moria Miller, one that will include conversations with community members, rec center staffers and other city departments.

How will those conversations work and what shape will they take? Unclear. Maita Soukup, another Parks & Rec spokesperson, declined to elaborate on when, where and how they would take place, and who specifically would be involved.

It’s unlikely the audit will be finished any time soon. Parks officials have their hands full with the upkeep of pools and various other summer programs — so the Mosquito audit could extend into the fall or winter.

At least it’s happening, said at-large Councilmember Helen Gym. When Billy Penn reported on the device almost a month ago, she was among its first vocal critics. She dubbed the devices “sonic weapons,” and vowed to get them turned off.

“I’m really glad they’re putting a pause on future installations of this device,” Gym said this week. “I still believe we have not, as a city, studied its impact.”

Though the devices are only supposed to be audible to people under the age of 25, plenty of older folks say they can hear the stinging noise. For those who do, it sounds kind of like “a paper cut in the ear,” as one observer put it. (Test whether you can hear it at this link.)

Gym said her office isn’t directly involved in the review — though she’s eager to see the results. She’s hoping Parks & Rec will conduct an in-depth study into the potential impact of the device on folks’ hearing.

Most of all, she wants young people to be included in the conversation.

“We need to ask ourselves whether this promotes responsible use of public space and public property or not,” Gym said. “And young people have a right to have a voice in that decision, so they feel welcome, included and safe in these spaces.”

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