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Crime Threat Prompts Some Banks to Shut ATMs at Night

October 31, 1994|From Associated Press

You need cash at 3 a.m. and stop at a bank automated teller machine vestibule, 24-hour ATM card in hand. Surprise.

Bankers have concluded that safety concerns sometimes outweigh customers' needs for round-the-clock access to their cash. Night crime at ATMs is prompting banks across the nation to cut cash machine hours, particularly those in vestibules in urban areas.

However, the restrictions come against a backdrop of enormous growth in both ATM use and the array of services available through them.

"Banks are recognizing that limiting hours is one way of dealing with safety concerns," said Barry Schreiber, a recognized expert on ATM crime and professor of criminal justice at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minn.

For customers, reducing ATM hours infringes on the convenience the machines were designed to provide.

A spate of 30 ATM robberies in Tampa, Fla., caused Barnett Bank to close some ATMs there at 10 p.m. and some in neighboring St. Petersburg, Fla., at 7 p.m. The machines reopen at 6 a.m. in Tampa and at 7 a.m. in St. Petersburg.

The bank believed it was in customers' best interest to limit the hours, said Robert Stickler, a spokesman for Barnett, which operates 800 ATMs throughout Florida and Georgia.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo Bank, for example, closes its ATMs in downtown San Francisco at night, said William R. Wipprecht, director of security.

"During the day, the area is filled with people, but at night it's deserted," he said. "We've had some complaints from people who do use the machines at night. It's a tough trade-off, but we feel it's better to be safe."

BankAmerica Corp. restricts the hours of 170 of the bank's 3,400 ATMs in California, a spokesman said.

Schreiber said that hours are restricted at less than 1% of the country's 95,000 ATMs, although because of crime, some cities will have a greater proportion of limited-hour machines than others.

The restrictions are especially inconvenient for people in low-income neighborhoods, where there tend to be fewer bank branches to begin with.

Schreiber estimates that there is one crime for each 2 million to 3 million ATM transactions nationwide.

According to Bank Network News, an industry publication, there were 642 million ATM transactions per month in 1993, or 21.4 million cash withdrawals, deposits and other transactions made each day nationwide. That works out to around seven ATM robberies per day.

Most local governments have safety laws requiring banks to provide special lighting, video surveillance and other measures to thwart ATM crime.

Bankers said they need to strike a balance between convenience and safety, noting that convenience is paramount to customers, even in areas of high crime.

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