Secure the ATMs

The brutal assault of a bank employee inside an ATM in Bangalore underscores the need for banks to provide security at these kiosks.

CCTV footage shows the assailant following the woman into the ATM, pulling down the shutters and then repeatedly striking her with a machete demanding that she withdraw money from ATM and hand over to him. The attack was undoubtedly gruesome. What makes it particularly chilling is the brazenness with which the assailant carried it out in the heart of the City, in a busy neighbourhood and in broad daylight. The incident underscores how vulnerable ordinary people are even in busy public spaces.

Some have argued that security in and around ATMs is the responsibility of the government. True safety in public spaces is the government’s responsibility but an ATM is the bank’s property.  Banks therefore cannot absolve themselves of responsibility for security there. However, what is needed now is not petty nit-picking or finger pointing but a strategy wherein banks work with the police to secure customers and the ATM. The ATM where the victim was assaulted was unguarded. It was the absence of security here that emboldened the assailant to strike. Banks often explain away the absence of guards at ATM kiosks by pointing out that they have installed cameras instead. The Bangalore incident underscores that while cameras help investigators to identify thieves and assailants and to piece together events their value in deterring crime is minimal.
Cost considerations underlie the reluctance of banks to provide guards at ATMs.

Authorities argue that if to the cost of setting up and operating an ATM, one were to add the cost of round-the-clock security guards the business model of an ATM will become economically unviable.  But profit margins alone cannot determine how businesses are run. Some thought needs to be given to safety of people who use the ATMs. Of course, guards by themselves will not make ATMs safe from thieves. There have been instances of guards acting hand-in-glove with the burglars, even helping them move out the teller machine. What is required therefore is a comprehensive, multi-level security arrangement, one that uses computer technology, surveillance cameras, automatic alarms, guards and police patrols. The Reserve Bank of India must make comprehensive security at ATMs mandatory.  Such security may increase the cost of operating an ATM but it has become essential.   

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