Not in Service


Just about everybody loves the convenience of automated teller machines. ATMs are fast, they're everywhere, and they're always open.

But Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas believes they are too dangerous to be open at night. Following three highly publicized murders at L.A.-area ATMs committed in a two- month period, Ridley-Thomas introduced a proposal that would impose a dusk-to-dawn curfew on all ATMs in the city.

L.A. City Attorney James Hahn has endorsed Ridley-Thomas's proposal, but several councilmen have been sharply critical of the idea. "It's asinine. We as a city can't dictate to people what they can and cannot do," says Councilman Richard Alatorre.

Not according to Ridley-Thomas. He says public safety takes precedence over public convenience: "Convenience can never be elevated to the status of a right."

But even from the standpoint of public safety, many critics say the ATM curfew is a bad idea. People could be left stranded with no way to get money for a taxi, or they might carry more cash than they need, just in case.

ATMs have never been a serious hazard, and are safer than ever before. According to a study by the California Bankers Association, crime at ATMs fell dramatically between 1992 to 1995, from a peak of 499 reported incidents in 1992 to 261. That's one attack for every 2.5 million transactions. In Los Angeles, ATM robberies have dropped even more precipitously, from 158 in 1993 to 63 through October 23, 1996.

Banks and police credit this decline largely to tighter security measures at ATM locations, such as cameras and better lighting, and to the rising number of ATMs in supermarkets.