Archive for Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Bill would require safety system on ATMs in Kansas

January 21, 2004


— What do you do if someone holding a gun to your back tells you to withdraw money from your automated teller machine?

Right now, there aren't many alternatives -- but a Wichita state senator hopes to create one.

Sen. Phil Journey, R-Wichita, has written a bill that would require banks to equip ATMs with the ability to automatically send an electronic call for help when a bank user enters his or her personal identification number in reverse.

The bill is opposed by the banking industry, and some in law enforcement question its potential effectiveness.

Under the system, the machine would still dispense the cash, so the robber would have no way of knowing whether the robbery victim had notified police, Journey said.

He said if such a system had been in place in December 2000, it could have given police a chance to interrupt one of the most heinous crimes in Wichita history -- the murder of four people by Reginald and Jonathan Carr. Three of the victims were forced to withdraw money from an ATM before the murders.

Journey said the system would deter robberies at ATMs because criminals could never know whether their victim was notifying police.

"Just introducing this bill might have a deterrent effect," he said. "If it saves one life, isn't it worthwhile?"

Dist. Atty. Nola Foulston, who prosecuted the Carr brothers, said that Journey had "an interesting proposition" and that she was pleased to see his interest in ATM safety. But she said she would want to see more research before making it a statewide mandate.

"I don't think you should get into something that's not been tested," she said.

The inventor of the safety PIN system, Joseph Zingher of Beach Park, Ill., said Friday that he would let banks use his patent on the system at no charge for ATMs in the state if Journey's bill becomes law.

He has tried for years to get someone to give the system a trial, he said.

The closest he has come to success was in Illinois, where the Legislature passed a law saying banks "may" offer the service. So far, none have.

Journey's bill, which he plans to introduce this week, says that banks "shall" offer the service.

"I don't think that (Illinois law) is strong enough," Journey said.

Journey already has encountered resistance from the banking industry.

Charles Stones, senior vice president of the Kansas Bankers Assn., has met with Journey and written a letter to him opposing the bill.

He said banking groups didn't think the system Journey proposes would be effective.

Stones said few people, when surprised by a robber, would have the presence of mind to punch in their personal identification number in reverse.

Lt. Gavin Seiler of the Wichita Police Department's robbery unit said the effectiveness of the reverse PIN system would depend mainly on whether an officer was close to the crime in progress.

The department doesn't keep statistics on ATM robberies, but Seiler said the city averages about three a year.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.