Drawing protests from bankers, Los Angeles is considering a plan to become the first major U.S. city to ban nighttime use of most automated teller machines.
Responding to three recent murders related to the use of ATMs, some members of the Los Angeles City Council are pushing legislation that would close from dusk to dawn all ATMs except those in stores.
"The intent is good, but it's taking the issue a bit far to impose a restriction throughout the city," said Adrian Rodriguez, a spokesman at Home Savings of America, the lead subsidiary of H.F. Ahmanson & Co.
Three City Council members proposed the controversial measure after a postal worker was murdered two months ago while using a Great Western Financial Corp. ATM in crime-infested south-central Los Angeles during the early morning hours.
That murder followed two at ATMs operated by Wells Fargo & Co. and Home Savings. Those killings, which occurred in July, were widely publicized, in part because at least one of them was recorded by the ATM's security camera and shown on local television.
This is not the first time that banks and lawmakers have been at loggerheads over issues related to customer security at ATMs. In the early 1990s, a rash of ATM security measures were introduced in city and state legislative bodies in New York, Illinois, and Florida.
Reforms resulting from this government oversight included the requirement of security cameras at ATM sites and better lighting.
But the proposal before the Los Angeles council would be the most stringent to date, and some bank observers questioned whether the measure could pass in its current form.
The council won't discuss the issue until it gets a report from the police department, probably in December, a council member's spokesman said.
Meanwhile, the California Bankers Association last week released a survey showing that ATM-related crime in California had decreased by nearly half from 1992 to 1995.
The survey, which covered institutions operating 55% of the ATMs in the state, showed that a crime occurred once every 2.5 million transactions last year, compared with once every 1.2 million transactions in 1992.
While crime statistics from the Los Angeles Police Department mostly corroborated the survey, it was not apparent whether the absolute number of ATM crimes had dropped.
"A great deal of credit for this impressive decrease must be given to banking industry security personnel," said Larry Kurmel, executive director of the association.
Officials of the banks and thrifts that would be affected by the curb on usage said the issue is serious, but they disagreed with the City Council's approach. "We think a dusk-to-dawn curfew is extreme," said Tim McGarry, a Great Western spokesman. "Our preferred method is to judge these on a case- by-case basis."
After the killing in front of one of its ATMs, Great Western voluntarily closed the machine from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., as it has done with other machines in high-risk areas, Mr. McGarry said.
Wells, which has 4,300 ATMs in 10 states, has not taken a public stance on the issue.
"We have been very active in promulgating state regulations as far as lighting and landscaping around the machines goes," said Kathleen Shilkret, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman.
Mr. Kurmel attributed much of the success in combating ATM-related crime to a 1993 state law that formalized security procedures for the machines.