Automated teller machine robberies are to banking what plane crashes are to transportation: High-profile, much feared -- and extremely rare.
The American Bankers Association reports one ATM crime for every 3.5 million transactions, higher than the odds of being struck by lightning in a year (one in 2 million). A more independent source, the Baltimore County police, has recorded 12 ATM robberies this year, 1 percent of all county robberies. Of course, when someone is held-up at a machine near your home, you don't forget.
Despite the rarity of ATM crime, Anne Arundel County police deserve some plaudits for their plan to have ATMs installed in their four stations around the county. The idea was conceived after six people were robbed at ATMs in Brooklyn Park and Glen Burnie over 17 days last January.
How much will these ATMs be used? The South County station is somewhat remote, and elsewhere in the county it's doubtful that many residents are going to drive past a slew of roadside ATMs (not to mention those inside all-night groceries and mini-marts) to bank at the police station.
Twenty years into the ATM age, with some 95,000 of these robo-tellers across the country, many Americans are now as resigned to, or comfortable with, using them as microwave ovens and phone-message machines. Bank surveys say that customers' top concern with ATMs is not crime, but whether the machine will be functioning when they want to take out money. With special lighting and other innovations such as card-entry kiosks and drive-through machines, banks have also tried to bvmake ATMs safer and more secure; the widely accepted use of the apparatus is probably all the more remarkable considering the heightened fear of crime in the '90s. Thirty years ago, many people would have been anxious at the thought of a machine that spits out one's savings on a street corner for all to see. (Heck, some folks are still uncomfortable pumping their own gas.)
Anne Arundel isn't a pioneer with this. The police department in Los Angeles, where gangs made ATM crime a sizable problem, responded with ATMs in their stations years ago. Some in the banking community might even be perturbed at Anne Arundel's initiative, thinking it overdramatizes a relatively minuscule problem. But that reaction is probably overkill in itself: For those consumers who would think twice about using an ATM at night, or at other times, the police responded well with a cheap, community-minded option.