The best idea an ad agency never had

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Following a series of murders in Edmonton, North London in 2008, police were struggling to either catch those responsible or stop the violence. Gangs, drugs and crime were rife in the area but locals were too scared to talk to police because of fear of reprisals. Frustrated with the wall of silence, Superintendent Lucy D’Orsi tried a different approach. She assembled an undercover team, had them trained in hip hop music and street culture. They opened a hip hop music shop in Edmonton, called Boombox, staffed by these undercover officers. It operated as a completely normal music shop, selling records and CDs and also had a back room recording facility which local talent could use to cut tracks.

Over time, local criminals came into Boombox offering guns, knives and drugs for sale. They would also meet associates there to do deals in the back room. The shop was kitted out with multiple hidden cameras and state-of-the-art recording devices which captured the deals. Over the course of the 12 months Boombox was open for business, thousands of hours of video and audio evidence were recorded. On one occasion a man was caught on CCTV selling four guns. He’d travelled to the shop on a busy bus with the loaded weapons hidden in a plastic bag. Another man was filmed selling £4000 worth of cocaine.

Following investigations into the evidence collected at Boombox, 21 firearms were removed from the streets, plus knives, air rifles and a samurai sword. 37 armed criminals and drug dealers, including 30 gang members, were jailed for a total of more than 400 years. In the 12 months after the operation the rates of highly violent crime in Lower Edmonton fell by 45%. And Boombox even made a small profit from selling hip hop records.

Some police officers have called Boombox an unethical honeytrap. Dave Trott might call it ‘predatory thinking’. Personally I’d just say it was a fucking great idea. Further proof, if it was needed, that creativity can change the world for the better.

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About antmelder
Creative Partner at DDB Sydney; passionate vegetarian; lover of books, boxing and Bruce Springsteen.

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