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After Murder Of South Boston Woman, A Push For More ATM Safety

BOSTON — Police believe South Boston resident Amy Lord was forced to withdraw money from five different ATM machines before she was killed earlier this week — one after another.

That has many people asking why ATMs don’t have safeguards that would flag that kind of suspicious behavior. The issue is a personal one for Sen. Brian Joyce, a Milton Democrat.

“It really was brought to my attention by a dear friend who was robbed at an ATM machine back in the late ’90s in New York,” Joyce recalls, “and was shot.”

Joyce has been pushing for ATM safety legislation for more than a decade. Various proposed bills would require ATMs to have surveillance cameras, reflective mirrors, transparent walls, card-secured door entry, or some combination or those. And when Joyce spoke with WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer Friday, he mentioned another safety measure that he thinks might have made a difference in the Lord case.

Sen. Brian Joyce: Perhaps most relevant here is we’ve suggested for over 10 years a requirement of an emergency telephone — some would refer to it as a panic button — so that if a person is in danger or feels in imminent danger of injury or robbery they would have the ability to get an emergency response. We’ve introduced this legislation in the state Legislature since about 1999 and it’s annually met with resistance from the banking industry that doesn’t necessarily want to bear any additional costs.

Sacha Pfeiffer: I’ve also read that there are proposals that perhaps you could enter a different PIN number that indicates distress, or your PIN backwards, and you might even get cash so that the captor or the robber or the mugger thinks everything is going smoothly but in fact some authority has been alerted.

There’s going to be a whole slew of wonderful proposals, and I think that’s terrific, but we need to do something. It’s been far too long, and I remember when Dave Breen was asked about this back in 2006…

This is a Boston University School of Law professor who’s been a longtime advocate for increased ATM safety.

That’s correct, and a person who was victimized in an ATM machine. And I remember him saying seven years ago, “My gosh, I hope someone doesn’t have to get seriously injured or worse before people take this measure seriously.” And that appears to me what may have happened here. This is just an unspeakable tragedy for this young woman’s family. And, who knows — perhaps it could have been avoided had some very commonsense, relatively simple safety precautions been mandated for these ATM locations.

You said it’s concerns about cost that generally made the banking/ATM industry resistant. What about the cost that might be borne by, say, prank alarms? I mean, how do you make a system foolproof so that it doesn’t overly tax the banking industry with unnecessary alarms?

Sure, but that’s not a reason to not have some safety measures at these ATM machines.

It seems to be a bit of a red herring. We’re already dealing with it in terms of fire alarms or people calling in false alarms. Certainly it’s possible that somebody could pull a false alarm at an ATM location, but it’s also distinctly possible that had such a device been in place at any one of these five machines where this poor young woman was forced to withdraw money, perhaps the tragedy could have been avoided.

What is the current status of ATM safety legislation in Massachusetts?

It sits before the Joint Committee on Financial Services. We’ve heard some commentary from the Massachusetts Bankers Association, which continues to be in opposition, suggesting it’s not financially driven, it’s perhaps because there’s no similar requirement for cash machines at convenience stores and gas stations. That strikes me as somewhat nonsensical.

But, in any case, if the bill can be improved, I’m all for it. But let’s just get something in place to try to avoid such a tragedy from happening again.

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