Political Intelligence

In wake of Amy Lord killing, push for increased ATM safety

In wake of the murder of Amy E. Lord, the 24-year-old woman who police believe was driven to a series of ATMs to withdraw money before she was killed, activists called for mandating increased safety mechanisms at bank ATMs.

“You would think if one of the five ATMs had at least a 911 phone or a panic button, it would have given her a fighting chance,” said David J. Breen, an associate professor at Boston University School of Law and a longtime advocate for increased ATM safety.

Some version of an ATM safety bill has been stalled in the Legislature since the late 1990s.

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State Senator Brian A. Joyce, a Milton Democrat, said today that the bill’s passage is long overdue. Joyce has sponsored this year’s legislation which would mandate emergency phones at ATM bank facilities, allowing users to pick up an extension that connects directly to 911. The bill would also require installation of surveillance cameras and adequate lighting.

“Who’s to say whether or not an emergency phone or a 911 panic button available at the ATM may have saved this young woman’s life,” Joyce said. “Let’s just hope the legislation passes. It’s clear that it has the potential to save other lives.”

Joyce has introduced his bank ATM security legislation in previous years, only to see it fail.

“It’s met some resistance, perhaps, because of the potential for some increased costs to be borne by the banks,” he said.

But Bruce E. Spitzer, the director of communications at the Massachusetts Bankers Association, said the main reason banks oppose the legislation is “it’s not going to be effective and doesn’t make sense.”

He said that the legislation only applies to banks’ ATMs, not cash machines at places like convenience stores and gas stations.

That discrepancy, he said, is “part and parcel of why we have opposed this legislation for a while now.”

And he said a panic button or 911 telephone could put a victim “in more danger if an assailant saw the victim hitting that panic button or picking up the phone.”

Asked about the Lord homicide, he said, “our thinking is: this legislation is not even germane to what happened to this poor victim.”

But Breen, the activist, said in the wake of the young woman’s death, action on ATM safety is essential.

“I think the banking industry has blood on its hands,” said Breen, who was himself the victim of an ATM robbery and shooting in 1991.

“There has to be some sort of mechanism for people to be able to get help,” he said.

Former state Senator Andrea M. Nuciforo worked on ATM safety legislation as far back as the 1990s, but he said, they could never push the bills into law.

“The industry, generally, was resistant to a lot of this because they were concerned about the expense associated with compliance,” he said.

But he held out hope that there would be progress.

“Unfortunately sometimes a tragic event like this is what you need to advance some of these issues,” he said.

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