This piece is about the "express kidnapping" also called the "ATM tour." Every column should have a cartoon to illustrate what the message is. For this one, the cartoon should be every governor and legislator of every state and every mayor of every major city standing over a pile of corpses of every age, race and gender in an alleyway and every bank lobbyist of the last 30 years telling them to shut up and mind their own business and no one gets hurt, because at heart, that's what this column is about. A lot has been going on since I got my first ATM card in 1981. Read this and see if you don't agree that there's something wrong.
You have to be at least 50 years old to remember a time when there were no ATMs. That's because ATMs were introduced in the US in 1968. That was a period when people were worried about the economy and violent crime growing out of control. When I saw my first ATM card in 1981, the first thing I thought of was "This is an invitation to murder. All the bad guy needs is my card, my PIN and to make sure I don't report it stolen and he can clean out my account." The back story on the ATM is that it was introduced in England in 1960, in a time when there was virtually no violent street crime and perhaps a few dozen murders per year in the whole country. Bankers in America saw how much money their cousins were saving in teller salaries and they decided to introduce it very slowly. It went from 500 ATMs in 1975, all inside banks, to 90,000 in 1985 in banks and grocery stores, to 160,000 in 1995 in banks, grocery stores, bars, and now, over 400,000 nationwide in every nook cranny and crevice. Over that time, an entire generation has arrived, all used to the idea of the ATM in the background somewhere, and paying no attention to the problem.
Here's where you have to learn a little about crime statistics. For the police to track a crime, they always had to have a specific crime code section. The state's penal code serves as an index number. There's no crime code section for "forced ATM withdrawal" so it just gets lumped in with robbery and disappears from sight, like the Ark of the Covenant in a government warehouse. And that's a real problem for the police. See if there were a crime code section in any state, the police in that state could connect Crime A to Crime B which would lead to an arrest before Crime C. This would make it easier for the police to spot and arrest the criminals who specialize in the pattern. That's Criminology 101. Now, here are a few more tidbits. Not one city, county or state in the US, nor the police in any industrialized country, keeps official track of this problem. I know, I checked with the police liaison at all their embassies. Such a curiosity since the ATM is about the most important social/economic phenomena of the last 40 years. The police have long known about the problem and they've been recommending that it be tracked to make their job easier. So far, I've found official city police reports in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Detroit and Atlanta that all recommend tracking the problem. I've also found official reports in Illinois, Georgia, Florida, California, Texas, New York and New Jersey, all recommending the same thing. All of these reports were written after high profile murders. And yet, after all these reports, nothing was done anywhere to fix the problem. In Illinois, Kansas and New Jersey, in the last ten years, there've been proposals to make forced ATM withdrawals a distinct felony, thereby solving the problem at no cost to the tax payer. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? After all, who could be against such laws? The bankers would obviously want the law because it would make their ATMs safer, which is why we make "bank robbery" a distinct felony instead of just lumping it in with other robberies. The police would want such laws because it makes their jobs easier. The public would want such laws, because they would make society safer. (Remember, the bad guy doesn't politely inquire, "Pardon me, have you an ATM card?" before the attack begins. He just attacks in the hope the victim has an ATM card. In Illinois, we had House Bill 4155 proposed making forced withdrawals a distinct Class X felony because of their extremely dangerous nature. Almost 10% of the entire general assembly, members of both parties, signed on as co-sponsors of the bill. HB4155 died in committee without debate. Since that bill was killed, 7 years of valuable data were lost, which in turn allowed some very bad people to avoid arrest. So who would kill such a bill knowing that violent criminals were the only beneficiaries? Crystal meth junkies? They are well funded with drug money after all. But wait, there is no Crystal Meth Junkies lobby. So who? Did I mention that if there were a crime code section for "forced ATM withdrawal" the police could also issue official reports on the extent of the problem? Now who could possibly have a problem with that? For forty years, the bankers have been claiming that there is no real ATM crime problem and they take care to make sure that their ATMs are safe. For the grammarians amongst you, "making sure that the ATM is safe" is not the same as saying "making sure that ATM CUSTOMERS are safe." It's really not a trivial point. If the bankers really wanted to protect their customers, they'd have demanded such crime statutes decades ago.
Right now, there's only one state in the country that even has a bill pending to make forced ATM withdrawals a distinct felony. That's Illinois and House Bill 3914. HB3914 is proposed by Constance Howard, who also chairs the committee it will appear before. She's retiring at the end of this session, so she's not really worried about keeping the banking lobby happy.
Now, here's where it gets funny. Police software has improved in the last ten years. They can now search their reports for keywords. By searching for "ATM" and overlaying the crime codes for murder, attempted murder, abduction, robbery, assault, rape, carjacking, home invasion and missing person-foul play suspected, they can go back through their files and pull up all the violent crimes involving ATMs. That includes robberies just after a withdrawal as well. The best data available shows that 3% to 6% of all murders in Illinois involve the killer using the victim's ATM card. That's 22 to 44 murders per year just in Illinois and 500 to 1000 nationwide. That doesn't include murder victims who are misclassified as missing persons, which could easily double or triple the confirmed murders and it doesn't include murders just after a withdrawal, only the forced withdrawals.
For those of you who want to know more, Google is the key to understanding. Do a Google News search for "ATM" and "murder." I come up with 3 murders per week just off that one search engine where the killer forced the victim to make a withdrawal. That only covers about 20% of all news sources in the US though, and the police do not normally release the ATM connection because it is an objective piece of information that could compromise the integrity of the case. You can also Google "ATM" and the following names. Some of these people are victims and others are criminals: Kimberly Boyd, Eve Carson, Meredith Emerson, Cheryl Dunlap, Robert Armfield, Lynne Weiss, Lily Burk, Jack & Irene Bryant, Carol & Reggie Sumner, Gonzalez Boys, Karen Kleinkauf, Nancy and Joey Bochicchio, Armanious Family, Gary Michael Hilton, Bruce Mendenhall, "The Town Center Mall Killer," John "the Grim Sleeper' Ewell, Tiffany Cole and Tameka Newson.
Now, that's what's been going on since I got my first ATM card in 1981. And I bet you thought the fees were the problem.
click here =HB&DocNum=3914&GAID=11&SessionID=84&LegID=62721
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