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BSIA Briefing

by Brian Sims

The idea that a vending machine could dispense chocolate bars, but not cash intrigued John Shepherd-Barron. That’s precisely why Shepherd-Barron set out to design and launch the first ATM, which appeared on the streets of London in 1967, writes Sarah Staff. Back then, the banks restricted their opening hours and people were left stuck should they arrive too late to withdraw money from their local branch. 

With any high value items, and especially so money dispensaries, comes an increased risk of thieves committing crime. Therefore, the need for security is imperative. It’s vital to ensure the safety and protection from attack of those staff involved in the delivery and collection of Cash and Valuables in Transit and the physical security of the cash itself (whether in transit or inside an ATM).

Robberies can occur when a security officer delivering or collecting cash from a bank, a commercial business or an ATM is targeted. These robberies cause deep distress to their victims, often resulting in life-changing physical and mental scars. The impact of such criminality also affects the local community following the temporary (or even permanent) closure of banks, retail stores and ATMs. The cash stolen by the criminals is often used to fund other forms of organised crime leading to more drugs, weapons and violent criminality in our communities.

Roughly 70,000 ATMs exist in the UK. It’s a reflection of the fact that there’s still a need to recognise the importance of cash in society and realise that we are not yet – if ever – ready to be ‘cashless’. Cash is still an important payment method used widely across the country. It’s vital within communities and among all age groups and should be easily accessible. For their part, banks and ATM providers need to be able to provide cash safely to the public.

According to figures from SaferCash (more of which anon), thefts and attempted thefts of cash machines have more than doubled since 2014, increasing from under 400 in 2014 to just under 850 last year. Intelligence shows that criminals are using a range of methods to steal ATMs, including breaking into premises, using gas or other accelerants to blow open ATMs or dragging them away thanks to the deployment of industrial machinery.

What, then, is being done to prevent these crimes and keep security staff, members of the public and the latter’s access to cash safe? The answer is to be found in joint working between the police service and the industry.

Security intelligence initiative

SaferCash is a British Security Industry Association security intelligence initiative which aims to reduce the number of attacks carried out against Cash-in-Transit couriers, physical attacks at financial institutions and those perpetrated against ATM distributors. A reduction in crime is achieved by the effective sharing of intelligence between industry partners and police services nationwide.

The SaferCash initiative draws all of the relevant information and intelligence together for analysis and assists in ensuring early industry prevention and timely police intervention.

SaferCash is underpinned by a strong partnership approach that’s approved by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the Home Office. It’s recognised as having the ability to identify linked offences wherein organised crime groups are active across force and regional boundaries. In the case of physical ATM crime, organised crime groups are carrying out attacks nationwide, impacting local communities and funding other criminal enterprises.

In addition to this, the police service and the private security industry have been holding events to tackle an increase in ATM crime rates. A few months ago, working in partnership with the NPCC and the West Midlands Police, SaferCash organised a National Commercial Robbery Conference in Staffordshire. Here, police officers met with industry leaders and business sector personnel to discuss efforts to tackle the increase in ATM crime and Cash-in-Transit robberies. The overriding aim was to build on the strong partnerships between police officers and their local businesses as well as enhance that relationship by way of the two parties working together to find solutions.

Bringing key stakeholders together, the desire was to seek a broader and improved understanding of these crime types, as well as a wider knowledge on how companies deploy stronger security measures. Identifying emerging trends was also a key objective. The conference highlighted some of the innovative approaches being taken by the police service and the industry to tackle and prevent Cash-in-Transit and ATM crime.

Assistant Chief Constable Sarah Boycott, the NPCC’s lead for commercial robbery, opened conference by outlining the importance of such events for bringing together the police and industry to unearth ways in which to beat commercial robbers and share information in order that they can remain one step ahead of the criminals. Working in partnership is key to both preventing crime and convicting the criminals.

Cash remains vital in society

The consensus at conference was that cash is still vital in society, but the continued risk is that serious organised crime groups will always want to steal it. Quite often, the offenders believe these are victimless crimes (ie it’s about stealing from large organisations who can afford to lose a little bit here and there), but what they don’t understand is that attacks on cash couriers and ATMs, especially with an increased use of violence against security officers and the force needed to remove an ATM, can put individuals and communities at risk. An ATM isn’t always free-standing, but rather built into the side of a shop or building with flats above. Unlawful removal methods can affect the structure of the whole property.

The NPCC’s objective of reducing such criminality focuses on the four ‘P’s: Prepare, Protect, Prevent and Pursue. The general public also plays a vital role in thwarting these crimes by sharing information or reporting suspicious incidents. As Boycott said: “Alone we can do little. Together we can do so much.” By dint of the public reporting via 999, 101 or Crimestoppers, more intelligence is gathered to prevent future crimes of this nature.

Companies are also being encouraged to speak to their local police officers to seek further advice on how to design out this crime, which could include additional security measures or something as simple as placing the ATM in a different location. The public should be encouraged to play their part and report anything suspicious to the police.

In rural communities, where ATM crime is common, a heavy plant vehicle driving on rural roads at night is something officers would want to know about. Farmers or construction companies who own such industrial machinery need to know the risks surrounding unlawful access to it to enable these crimes to be committed. “Nothing is too big to steal” (as a spokesperson for the Organised Vehicle Crime Unit outlined at conference). Although it’s understandable this machinery cannot always be returned to a farm or depot for safe storage every day if deployed on site or in a particular field, that scenario presents easier opportunities for criminals to steal.

Most offenders will steal the machinery just before or on the night of the crime. This gives them enough time to carry out a major act of theft, but doesn’t allow the owners enough time to realise that the machinery has been stolen and alert the police. These thefts are often only discovered the following morning when the machinery is needed, and that’s when contact is made with the police. The police will already be aware of the theft after recovering the machinery at the scene of an ATM attack.

Preventative measures can be as simple as not leaving keys in the ignition or adding a steering wheel lock.

Working in tandem to prevent crime

Sarah Staff

Sarah Staff

Further examples of organisations working together to prevent crime are to be found in the National Industry Awards and Public Bravery Awards at the British Security Awards.

This year, Cash-in-Transit specialist Loomis UK celebrated the actions of one of its own employees, namely Surrendra Chongbang. Chongbang had thwarted an armed robber and, as a result, was given the Industry Bravery Award.

Further, the immediate actions of three young men in north London who chased and apprehended a dangerous criminal committing a Cash-in-Transit robbery, without any thought to their own safely, were justly recognised as they were bestowed with the Public Bravery Award.

The latter episode really does go to show how being vigilant and knowing what to look out for can help in reducing and preventing cash-related crimes.

Sarah Staff is Head of SaferCash

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