Would Emergency Buttons Make ATMs Safer? Michigan League Doesn't Think So, Opposes Detroit ATM Ordinance
DETROIT - The Michigan Credit Union League opposes a proposed ordinance in Detroit that would require banks and credit unions to put security cameras and so-called 911 buttons on their outside ATMs. "The issue is not the cameras obviously, since everyone already has those," said Patrick LaPine, vice president of...
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DETROIT – The Michigan Credit Union League opposes a proposed ordinance in Detroit that would require banks and credit unions to put security cameras and so-called 911 buttons on their outside ATMs. “The issue is not the cameras obviously, since everyone already has those,” said Patrick LaPine, vice president of government affairs for the League. “The issue was the buttons which we don’t believe will act in the way that it has been suggested that they would.” The opposition is merely the latest flare up in what has been an ongoing, if low level, debate among financial institutions: how big a problem is crime at ATMs and what is the best way to approach it. Since neither financial institutions nor police break out their crime statistics by whether or not they occur at an ATM, the problem is particularly hard to quantify. But a continuing stream of stories about crimes, some of them particularly heinous, has kept the issue in front of the public and sparked initiatives at the state level to try to address it. Bank and credit union associations have most often opposed these initiatives on the grounds that they represent an undue regulatory burden and that they just don’t work as promised. This lack of proven track record preventing crime at ATMs proved key to the MCUL’s opposition, according to LaPine. He contended that the buttons, which merely open a communications channel with a 911 operator, do not deter crime and that crime victims would be unlikely to use them during a crime. “It seems highly unlikely that an ATM user with a gun in their ribs is going to risk punching the button so that the assailant can hear someone identify themselves as the 911 operator,” he added. LaPine said that a more effective approach would be for all ATM deployers to examine the lighting, surrounding and placement of their ATMs to deter crime. He also said that the Detroit police department has told the League that they also oppose the ordinance and will say so publicly in September when the city council meets again. Both banks and credit unions in Detroit have objected to the ordinance being proposed for financial institutions that deploy ATMs but not for independent service organizations (ISOs) that also do so. “If ATM crime is a problem, surely it’s a problem no matter who deploys the ATM,” he remarked. Proposed Ordinance Had Credit Union Roots Ironically, given the MCUL’s position, LaPine said a credit union was responsible for having had the proposal put on the Council’s agenda in the first place. In March of this year the $114 million Downriver Community Credit Union, headquartered in Ecorse, Michigan, had put the buttons into place at one of its ATMs where there had been several muggings. In addition to adding lighting and cutting back on shrubs, the credit union had put the button into place to help ease members’ minds about using the machine, CEO Michael Chmiel explained at the time. Well, according to LaPine, someone who either worked for the Detroit City Council or was somehow in communication with the Council, came by the ATM one day, saw the button and convinced a city council member to take up the idea. But now that the proposed ordinance has come up in Detroit, Chmiel said that the city would be “nuts” to adopt it. “The button is really more or less of an add-on,” he said, “the icing on the safety cake and not the cake itself.” ATM security depends much more on things like ATM placement, lighting, and what else is around, he explained, not on the button. “So much of the button depends on how well the police respond,” he said, “and we can’t control that.” In the four months since Downriver put the button into place on its ATM, Chmiel reported that it had been used once by an ATM member who was being mugged at the ATM. But the police took seven minutes to arrive, by which time the mugger had long since fled. “They never caught him despite the ATM user hitting the button during the robbery,” Chmiel said. “Unbelievable. It was great for getting the police to a crime scene after the crime occurred, but it didn’t prevent the crime or lead to anyone being caught for it so far.” The chief benefit to the button has been to reassure members, Chmiel said. Detroit banks and credit unions that want to cut ATM crime would do better to look at where they placed their ATMs, how much traffic they have nearby and whether their credit union can be easily seen from a variety of different directions, he said. -
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