Mosquito sonic device

Teen-repelling ‘Mosquito’ devices to stay in Philly public parks indefinitely

A city review found support for the ‘sonic weapons’ — but they never asked young folks.

Barrett playground is one of 30 Philly parks that contain sonic devices that target young people by emitting a high frequency

Barrett playground is one of 30 Philly parks that contain sonic devices that target young people by emitting a high frequency

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Updated 10:20 a.m.

The Mosquito is here to stay.

Found at many Philly rec centers and playgrounds, as Billy Penn reported last summer, the sonic devices will continue to nightly emit a constant ringing noise at an ultrahigh pitch that anyone over age 25 isn’t supposed to be able to hear.

After conducting a months-long internal review, the Department of Parks and Recreation determined the deterrents, intended to reduce vandalism by keeping youths away, should remain in place.

Mosquito devices are currently installed at 30 city spaces — despite complaints raised by several neighbors, teens and councilmembers.

“I want to ensure that no new devices are being installed,” City Councilmember Helen Gym told Billy Penn on Thursday, “until we’re able to determine the effects of the current devices on the communities where they are already installed.”

Originally, Parks & Rec said it had gone ahead with two more installations. But after this article was published, officials reached out to Billy Penn saying they had misunderstood the question — and there have been no new installations since July.

The one small change after last summer’s uproar? One noisemaker at Northeast Philly’s Picariello Playground had its volume turned down, after Parks & Rec determined residents who said they could hear it from their homes were telling the truth.

Overall, city officials said the internal review uncovered widespread support for the devices. A spokesperson from the mayor’s office referred a reporter back to the Parks Department.

“The majority of our on-site staff are supportive of them,” said Parks & Rec’s deputy commissioner Aparna Palantino. “I don’t have a definitive response from anyone that said they didn’t want them.”

The city’s been installing the devices since 2014, mostly upon request from district councilmembers or rec center staffers.

After hearing about the Mosquitos over the summer, Councilmember Gym was one of the strongest voices to push back against the devices. She called them “sonic weapons” and said they discriminated against young people.

mosquito-kimpaynter
Kimberly Paynter / WHYY and Billy Penn

“In a city that is trying to address gun violence and safe spaces for young people,” Gym said in June 2019, “how dare we come up with ideas that are funded by taxpayer dollars to turn young people away from the very places that were created for them?”

Gym’s office said this week she thought the administration’s promised review of the devices was still ongoing — and wasn’t aware two more had already been installed.

Henon: ‘I want them in all my rec centers’

It took six months for Parks & Rec to survey its system and determine whether to keep the audio-based youth repellents. Palantino said she talked to rec center leaders, Parks & Rec staffers and city councilmembers.

Who didn’t the department talk to? Teens. Palantino confirmed that Parks & Rec’s teen advisory councils were not included in the review process.

“Unfortunately not everyone is as respectful of public property as they should be,” Palantino said. “We’ve had vandalism, we’ve had people burn our play equipment down, we’ve had graffiti and broken windows. Our intent is to prevent that from happening.”

Palantino couldn’t say whether young people — toward whom the Mosquito device is specifically targeted — were responsible for any of the vandalism she cited.

Along with Gym, other Philly lawmakers also had no idea the internal review had finished, they said this week.

On Thursday, Councilmember Cherelle Parker said she hadn’t heard from the administration about any action. One of the device’s early critics, Parker had signaled that she wanted Parks & Rec to pull the Mosquitoes from public spaces in her Northwest Philly district, according to communications uncovered by WHYY’s PlanPhilly via a Right-to-Know request.

“Get this out of DE!” Parker texted an aide in June, referring to the device at Dorothy Emmanuel Playground in Cedarbrook.

On Thursday, Parker told Billy Penn she’ll be following up about removal.

Meanwhile, some Council members maintain the devices are welcome in their districts.

“I want them in all my rec centers,” District 6 Councilmember Bobby Henon said. “My constituents have had issues with kids hanging out after curfew, and it’s caused an issue in the neighborhoods when it comes to public safety.”

Want some more? Explore other Mosquito sonic device stories.

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