First Choice CU Caught in Media Controversy Over "Mantrap"
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - First Choice Credit Union's security measures recently became fodder for local media here. At issue, the credit union's use of its entrance control system also called a "man-trap". The man-trap is designed to trap would-be robbers before they gain entrance to the credit union. It is equipped with metal detectors that can pick up guns, knives or other weapons. The man-trap was triggered for a member who claimed to have a metal leg. Upon refusing to show his leg to credit union representatives he was advised to use the drive-thru services. The incident made the late news in the West Palm Beach area, reported by an NBC affiliate station. "From what I know of the situation, if you have any type of medical implant you should have a medical identification card -he didn't have that and he didn't want to lift his pant leg to show us the leg," said First Choice CU Marketing Director Lyn Gills. "We do our best to strike a balance between ensuring the safety of our members and staff and not inconveniencing members. We have since provided that particular member a special identification card he can show us." Designed by Cincinnati, Cincinnati-based Hamilton Safe Company, the metal detecting entrance control system functions by not allowing two doors to be open at the same time. If metal objects such as a gun or a knife are detected, an alarm sounds and the inner doors to the branch will not open. Not only that but if more than one person enters at the same time the inner doors to the branch lock automatically. The system allows credit union representatives to override the system and "buzz" members in at their discretion. Base unit prices start at $33,000 (not including installation) and go up depending on additional features such as cameras or monitors. The system's metal sensitivity can also be customized. First Choice CU tapped the local police department to test its unit's sensitivity to a variety of weapons including pistols, handguns and knives in an assortment of sizes. Gills says security is a continuous learning experience and it can sometimes be a Catch-22. For example, if the credit union had let the individual in and a robbery occurred the media would have been more critical. "We learn as we go," said Gills. "We have several of these credit union identification cards on hand should a similar situation arise in the future." With "bank" robberies in Palm Beach County alone spiking from 2,369 in 2000 to 5,497 in 2003 and credit unions already being viewed by robbers as soft targets, the Federal Bureau of Investigations reports that preventative barriers have proven to be effective deterrents. Physical security barriers are nothing new for the credit union, which not only utilizes glass bandit barriers in its main branch but also remote teller systems and the "mantrap" in its Royal Palm Beach facility. "When you look at the news there is at least one bank robbery a day reported and they are becoming violent-not just note passers but they are showing and waving their guns. We want our employees to feel safe when they come to work and our members to feel safe doing transactions with us," said Gills. "Once our employee was injured during a robbery last March we decided to add the entrance control units which were installed by November." All staff employees were sent to the Royal Palm Beach branch to experience hands-on training with the unit. To make members aware of the new security feature, First Choice CU ran continuous in-branch videos explaining the steps taken for their safety and provided detailed information in its newsletters. In addition, when the unit was installed staff greeters were on hand out front to help members with the transition. "The member reaction has been mixed. Some think it's sad we had to do it but are appreciative, others just don't like change, but for the most part members understand. They see the news too and once we explain that we didn't do this to inconvenience them they appreciate our efforts," said Gills. -firstname.lastname@example.org