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Bernson Suggests Installing ATMs in Police Stations

April 28, 1993|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Prompted by a rash of violent robberies at automated teller machines, City Councilman Hal Bernson asked city officials Tuesday to study a plan to put ATMs in police stations.

Under the Bernson proposal made at a City Council meeting, ATMs would be installed on a trial basis at the Los Angeles Police Department's Devonshire Division in Chatsworth and one at an intercity station to be determined later.

Bernson said the plan would "help create a safe environment at ATMs for citizens 24 hours a day, and to help with the new efforts to make our geographic police divisions a more friendly place to go."

But police, city and banking officials had questions about the amount of space that an ATM would occupy, whether the station lobbies could handle the extra foot traffic and how the city would choose the bank to install and maintain the machines.

Those questions will be answered by the city's General Services Department, which Bernson asked to study the proposal and contact "major Los Angeles banks to determine the feasibility of placing two ATMs in LAPD lobbies."

Randall C. Bacon, general services manager, said it will take about 60 days to study the proposal and return to the City Council with a report on the plan. It would then be considered by a City Council committee before coming before the entire council for a final vote, he said.

Police Department spokesman Lt. John Dunkin said the idea wouldn't work in all stations because some have insufficient room for ATMs in the lobbies.

But Deputy Chief Mark Kroeker, commander of the San Fernando Valley police units, applauded the idea. "I think Councilman Bernson is on to something good," he said.

Kroeker said he liked the idea because it would bring the public in contact more often with police on a positive basis, allowing officers to distribute crime prevention material and other information to citizens.

Besides, he said, a police station would be a safe haven for ATM users.

"I don't think anyone will be robbed at gunpoint using an ATM inside a police station," he said.

Banking officials greeted the plan with a mixture of interest and skepticism.

Tom Celebrezze, a spokesman for the California Bankers Assn. which represents about 400 banks, called the plan interesting and novel. "We want to do anything to protect our customers," he said.

But he said he would be concerned about how the city would select the bank to operate the ATMs.

Wells Fargo spokeswoman Kathleen Shilkret said she could not form an opinion on the plan until she knew how convenient the police stations would be for customers and how the cost of maintaining the machines would be split between the bank and the city.

Shilkret noted that many ATMs are already located within supermarkets and convenience stores, which she said are safer than most outdoor ATMs.

In proposing the ATM plan, Bernson said that "in recent months, many robberies have turned violent and a number of citizens have been killed."

One of those victims was Sherri Foreman, 29, a mother-to-be who died May 31 of the same wounds that killed her 13-week-old fetus after she was stabbed near an automated teller machine in Sherman Oaks by a would-be carjacker.

A week later, police arrested a suspect in connection with Foreman's death.

She was one of two victims in the past two months killed near an ATM.

The other victim was Hans Christian Herzog, who was killed on March 5 near an ATM in Lancaster. Two suspects have been arrested in that case.

Police say it is difficult to gauge whether there are more ATM robberies and slayings because the LAPD does not keep statistics on the number of ATM holdups, instead lumping them in with all street robberies.

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