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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – As robberies seem to be on the rise, more credit unions are responding by exploring physical barriers. Whether by “takeover”, where the credit union is taken hostage by fully armed gunmen or “note jobs”, where a robber passes a note to a teller demanding funds, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that preventive barriers have proven to be effective deterrents. In response to an armed robbery at the Health Sciences Campus branch in the fall, USC Credit Union has recently decided to install bullet-resistant glass shields. Although the perpetrators got away with “almost nothing” according to USC CU Vice President Scott Rains, the barriers “really negates the crimes while reassuring the staff.” Apart from a few members accidentally hitting their foreheads against the glass, or yelling at tellers because they think the glass is soundproof, overall member response has been positive. Financial institutions that shy away from the glass barrier due to concerns about creating an impersonal environment do have other options. For example, in Toledo, Ohio preventing “takeover” robberies has become the mission of two credit unions here. After being hit by robbers twice in the past year, $32 million TPS Credit Union’s search for a robbery deterrent ended with installing a double door locking system. “Being someone’s victim, weighed not only on my mind but also the minds of employees and members, so we decided that we needed to be more active in thwarting that type of activity,” said TPS CU President/CEO Robert Tracy, Jr. Although experiencing only two robberies overall, the $41 million Champion Credit Union also wanted to promote a secure environment and opted to install the same doors. “That is two too many and enough for us,” said Champion CU President/CEO Steven Grindle. “We knew something had to be done because several employees were feeling uncomfortable coming to work with just the thought of another robbery so we would have lost valuable employees if we did nothing. In the long run the entry control system just made sense for us.” Designed by Cincinnati, Ohio-based Hamilton Safe Company, the metal detecting entrance control system functions by not allowing two doors to be open at the same time. Not only that but if more than one person enters at the same time the inner doors to the branch lock automatically. If the metal detector senses a metal object, such as a gun or a knife, an alarm sounds and again the inner doors won’t open. If other metal objects, such as keys, cell phones, or a box of Altoids trigger the alarm members are asked if they have any metal objects. Members can then place any metal objects on a shelf that is monitored by camera. The teller is able to view the object and has the capability to override the system and “buzz” members in. With branch entry controlled by staffers, both CEOs agree that it helps foster a general feeling of safety and security. Although the doors can be designed to lock someone in between the doors, both Grindle and Tracy refuse to implement that option. “We are not in the business of trapping criminals, the idea is to prevent the entrance of perpetrators and facilitate their immediate departure-if they can run for it, let them,” said Tracy. According to Hamilton Safe Company Sales Associate Chris Napier interest has been increasing and over 200 such doors have been installed in financial institutions nationwide. As for concerns that members may be taken aback by the doors and the metal detector, Tracy says education is the key to member acceptance. “We launched an informational campaign the first of the year to heighten awareness of security,” said Tracy. “From newsletters letting them know that the doors would be installed as part of our active role in safety to a public relations campaign which included around-the-clock playing of an educational three-minute video from Hamilton demonstrating how the door works in each branch, we made sure our members knew what we were doing and why. We emphasized that we take safety pretty seriously here and took the opportunity to impress on members the idea that being actively involved in upgrading the security consciousness is one of our service elements.” By the time the doors were installed over a weekend in March, Tracy says members were positive, upbeat and even helping each other maneuver through the doors. Plans are underway to install an entry system in TPS CU’s second branch later this year. Grindle says although it has only been a week and it is too soon to say, so far he too has heard only positive statements from members. “So many members have commented that they are glad we are doing something to keep them all safe,” said Grindle. While no one was willing to divulge the system’s exact price tag, both CEOs agreed that in the long haul the entry door system proved more economical than placing deputy sheriffs on site or hiring a security firm. “It is a challenge to measure the cost of safety when ultimately employee and member security come first,” said Grindle. “Is the door going to stop us from ever being robbed? Who knows for sure? But will it make a robber think twice before coming in because we are not an easy target? Definitely.” [email protected]

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