MADISON, Wis. – With industry interest heightening on techniques to curb robberies, CUNA Mutual Group has reaffirmed its policy supporting the "no hats-no sunglasses" signage procedure as one means to thwart crime. CUNA Mutual said its Credit Union Protection Division is very familiar with the concept of "no hat, no hood, no sunglasses" for persons entering CU property. Still, said the insurer, there is "no specific language in its bond contracts requiring implementation of such a policy, but we support its use as a loss prevention tool" as long as it is approved by the CU board and its attorney. In addition, it must be "verified to be acceptable under state and local laws," and on that score CMG suggested CUs consult with law enforcement to develop rules "to deal with application of the policy." Following a sharp increase in robberies recently at banks and CUs particularly in Missouri, CUs in that state began ordering signage from the Missouri Credit Union Association to be posted outside branches and main offices (CU Times, May 14). CUNA Mutual noted that "robbers want to remain anonymous and being required to remove a hat, hood or sunglasses does remove some anonymity," and hence "a potential robber seeing this posting may decide to move on to a more attractive target." A major problem with the policy is in dealing with members of a religious faith who requires headgear and the prospect of members being offended by the procedure or for individuals wearing headgear or sunglasses for health reasons. However, Missouri CUs in the Springfield area, hard hit by the robberies, contend they have encountered no resistance from members and the procedure is working to stem robbery attempts. In January the Missouri Credit Union Association held a series of meetings with the FBI to discuss the policy. Of 176 CUs in Missouri, 60 have placed orders for the signs, said an association spokesman. MCUA said it has received more than a dozen e-mails from CUs in Missouri and elsewhere including staff at other state Leagues such as Illinois and Arizona that are interested in the policy. The "no hats" rule got its momentum this spring in Massachusetts when that state's bankers association introduced a tough new anti-robbery bill that provides a minimum sentence of five years "if a disguise is used, a weapon is threatened or a weapon exists" during the course of a bank robbery. In 2002, the Massachusetts Bankers Association began a signage program asking customers to remove hats, hoods and sunglasses. "Thus far, 48 banks and hundreds of branches have utilized the signs and only three branches have been robbed since they went up," said the MBA. In Delaware, the state CU League this month posted a discussion of the "no hats" rule on its Web site suggesting CUs there were also looking into the prospect of adopting such a policy. "I think it's a great idea and is one we're certainly looking into," said Chris Kaczmarczyk, president of the $153-million Dexsta Federal Credit Union, Wilmington. "We're also found that posting a security guard in front of branches works very well, too." The police say the guard "is a definite deterrent, and Delaware First Bank across the street from us" has had the same positive experience, said Kazcmarczyk. As for the "no hats" signage, she said the biggest problem would be with Muslim women and others who wear headgear, "and in that case we have to respect" members' wishes. Nonetheless, she said, the signage idea has merit "since when you look at the number of robberies committed by people with baseball hats and sunglasses, you know you have to do something" to catch the thieves, said Kazcmarczyk. Also looking into the signage proposal is Hercules Federal Credit Union of Wilmington which said while it has no robbery problem now it "wants to be protected" for the future. CUNA Mutual Group said CUs should determine on their own "what exceptions, if any, it will make to the policy. It also reminded CUs that "no one policy, procedure or tool will deter or stop all robberies but using several sound tools will help reduce the risk." In Delaware, the league's attorney, William Aukamp, said under that state's statutes he found "no legal reason to oppose the concept." He likened the situation to that of businesses posting signage, "no shoes, no shirt, no service." Aukamp did caution, however, that some people may have a legitimate religious purpose for wearing a head covering. Others may have a need for sunglasses due to cataracts or other eye ailments or for a hat or hood while undergoing chemotherapy. "While this concept is legal, credit unions are advised to make the policy reasons known to the members and to judiciously enforce its application," said the Delaware League. "Some members may not see the signage or be unaware of its application and may need a gentle reminder. Employees should be fully trained on how to explain the policy to members and should be provided with a list of frequently asked questions, along with answers." -

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