There’s no shortage of ATM horror stories at banks in New York City.
During the early hours on Jan. 19, an attacker threw hot coffee in the face of man in the ATM vestibule area of a Chase Bank branch in Midtown Manhattan.
In August 2021, a 50-year-old man was brutally attacked by a hatchet-wielding maniac at a Chase vestibule in the Financial District, while in February 2020 a woman was killed after being assaulted in an ATM vestibule at a Bank of America branch on Pelham Parkway in the Bronx.
ATMs, when they first came on the scene in the 1980s, were hailed as major progress — enabling customers with cards to make deposits or withdrawals anytime, day or night, whenever it’s most convenient for them. But the recent spate of crimes, and the maintenance of ATM vestibules, have now forced some companies to reduce 24/7 access to these devices.
In response to these and many other incidents, banks have been taking steps to reduce the number of attacks and address the makeshift shelters often seen in branch vestibules. Just two days prior to the coffee incident at Chase, the company announced on Twitter that it had closed many of its vestibules during the overnight hours for safety purposes.
“Our apologies,” the bank’s customer service department tweeted. “We decide[d] to close several ATM vestibules at 5PM or 6PM, aligning the hours of service to that of the normal branch hours, due to rising crime and vagrancy that occurred in these previously 24/7 vestibules.”
Chase is not alone in closing its vestibules overnight. Citizens Bank, which acquired 80 HSBC bank branches last year, has shut down its ATM vestibules at many of its locations at night. Meanwhile, Santander Bank has ATMs in vestibules not accessible after 10 p.m., while City National Bank has reportedly adopted a similar policy.
Bank of America and TD Bank did not respond to several inquiries asking them about their ATMs.
Citizens Bank cited public safety as the reason for its closures.
“The safety and wellbeing of our customers and colleagues is a top concern,” said Eleni Garbis, a spokesperson for Citizens Bank. “Like a number of other banks, we have temporarily closed some ATM vestibules overnight at certain New York City branch locations where we have seen repeat activity that could present a potentially dangerous situation for our customers or colleagues.”
Citizens Bank adopted the policy soon after acquiring HSBC’s bank branches last year.
Meanwhile, Chase said that it is constantly reviewing its policy and monitoring the situation: “We review our ATM hours on a case-by-case basis and for a variety of reasons may decide to temporarily close some overnight.”
Chase did not disclose how many ATM vestibules it has closed at night, although there are many throughout the five boroughs that are shut after 10 p.m. nightly. These include locations in Brooklyn, such as in Brooklyn Heights, and Queens, such as in Long Island City.
However, the bank’s announcement of the overnight closures set off some customers about the condition of the vestibules. Following the bank’s Jan. 17 tweet, one man responded via twitter that Chase could do better in its overall upkeep of its ATMs:
“This is the @Chase ATM lobby in Times Square at 8 a.m. 17 Jan, 2023,” with photos of the vestibule that had been trashed. “This is a financial institution with $3.31 trillion in assets. It seems like they could do better than this.”
This is the @Chase ATM lobby in #TimesSquare at 8 a.m. 17 Jan, 2023. This is a financial institution with $3.31 trillion in assets. It seems like they could do better than this. pic.twitter.com/6fxYRiS6Yf
— MJ Gray (@madisonjgray) January 17, 2023
David Tente, president of the ATM Security Association, said that banks in all the major cities have been struggling to maintain their vestibules, noting that they continue to attract homeless people and crime. He said the problem has grown worse following the outbreak of COVID-19, leading many banks to cut their ATM hours.
“The trend increased quite a bit during the pandemic in all the major cities,” Tente said. “We’re seeing shorter [ATM] hours at a lot of banks.”
He said banks are no longer constructing ATMs with vestibules like they did in the past, despite the customer benefits such as protection from the winter elements.
State laws aim to increase safety
New York is one of the few states with laws designed to increase customer safety at ATMs.
State regulations require banks to have security cameras that record anyone who enters their facility or vestibule, and they are required to keep the footage for at least 45 days. There are also minimum lighting requirements by the ATMs.
For outdoor ATMs, the cameras must be able to record at least 3 feet of space in front of the machine.
Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer who now lectures at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, observed that many people are concerned about their public safety: “They plan their day and go about their business with safety in mind, whether it is getting the subway, going to the park or using an ATM.”
He said that many New Yorkers believe that ATMs are a magnet for crime, particularly at night.
Mayor Eric Adams spoke about the issue of ATM safety during a press conference in January, following Chase’s announcement that it was cutting its ATM hours. He said the problem needed to be addressed.
“People don’t want to walk into the ATM and see someone urinating, see someone screaming and yelling,” Adams said. “And that is what I’m saying I need [it] to stop because I don’t want my ATMs closing down. I don’t want people leaving our city. We have to create an environment that people are safe and they feel safe.”
Many New Yorkers told amNewYork Metro seemed to agree that they feel insecure about using an ATM during evening hours.
Two women outside a Citizens Bank branch in Long Island City, Queens on Monday expressed those sentiments.
“In the nighttime I don’t feel safe,” said Madiha Iqbal, a Long Island City resident. “Sometimes there are homeless people inside [the vestibule] so it’s very hard to go inside at night. You feel like someone is going to mug you and take your money, this is scary.”
Meanwhile, Wajiha Iqbal, who was with her, said it was not safe to use the ATM after sunset.
“Mostly the drug people are around in the nighttime. It’s scary, especially for women.”
Citizens Bank cut back its ATM hours at the Long Island City branch at the start of winter, according to a bank branch worker, who said it was due to homeless people and safety concerns. However, the worker said that the branch is reevaluating whether to restore 24-hour service soon. Currently its vestibule is closed between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.
Giovanni Neidda, who was withdrawing money from the ATM at the Capital One Bank branch in Union Square over the weekend, said he typically takes out cash during the day as opposed to at night.
“Too many drug addicts, bums sleeping inside the ATMs. And that’s not safe,” he said.
At the entrance to the Capital One Bank, there is a big sign that reads: “This ATM vestibule is for banking customers only. No trespassing, no loitering, no panhandling, no sleeping.”
Neidda said that some banks have hired security guards that patrol the vestibules at night, particularly in the wealthier areas. For instance, the Chase branch in the Financial District, an amNY Metro reporter observed, had a security guard working in the vestibule during evening hours over the weekend.
At a Chase ATM in Tribeca, one couple told amNY Metro that they felt safe taking cash out of their branch at night. The pair, however, said that there was a security guard at the location that reduced their concerns.
“We haven’t heard of a lot of incidents happening at ATMs,” one of them said. “But you know, if there’s nobody there and it’s late you feel vulnerable.”
One man, who didn’t want to provide his full name, who was withdrawing cash from the Chase ATM in Union Square said he felt “fine” going to the ATM and empathized with the plight of the homeless.
“I mean, I am very aware of my surroundings,” the man said. “And I have gone into ATMs relatively late in the evening. And there might be people sleeping within them, but I still use it. I don’t have any fear. “
He said life is tough for the homeless, particularly during winter, and he doesn’t want them to have to sleep outside in the cold. He said he hasn’t experienced any violent episodes.
“We’re just getting through winter, so I want them to be sheltered and protected as best as possible,” he said. “I’m fine with it. I’ve had conversations with homeless people. There’s a few that I sort of support in my neighborhood.”