Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bangalore safety is not the job of banks

A PTI story about the attack on a woman at an ATM in Bangalore says:
... Karnataka government today bluntly told banks to close down such kiosks unless they provide security. As the shocking episode continued to grab media attention in Bangalore and across India, with the CCTV footage of the gory act being beamed into homes and offices on TV and the net, Home Minister K J George held a high-level meeting to discuss measures to curb such incidents.

George said more than 600 of the total 2,580 ATMs in the city have no security guards.
"We want them to deploy security guards immediately or close down the things until suitable arrangements have been made... that's why the Police Commissioner (Raghavendra Auradkar) will take appropriate action," he told reporters.
This is an appalling cop-out.

It is convenient and comfortable for the police to not take responsibility for safety. It is convenient and comfortable for the police to impose restrictions on citizens to make their job convenient. But we should not organise society in a way that's convenient for the police. The job of the police is difficult, and we should hold them accountable for delivering on it.

Look at any civilised country. Do banks put a guard on every ATM? Or does the government produce an umbrella of safety over society as a whole? The criminal justice system produces a public good called safety. Safety is non-rival and non-excludable. It is a public good. Mr. George and Mr. Auradkar are wrong when they want to transfer this responsibility down to citizens, asking them to produce safety as a private good.

In economic policy, when a central banker says the central bank cannot control inflation, I say that the person should resign. If you can't deliver low and stable inflation, please leave the central bank, and let someone else try to do your job better. In similar fashion, when a policeman says that the police cannot deliver safety, I would suggest that the policeman should resign. If you can't deliver safety, don't be in the police.


  1. True. Also, according to Becker's crime and punishment model - the cost of increasing the probability of detection of crime is usually higher than the cost of increasing punishment if detected. We need to decide whether we want to increase the number of cops that we put out there or deliver swift justice to those caught. Need to look at empirical data to see what works as a better crime deterrent too.
    A short-term solution could be to somehow ensure that ATM kiosks can be secured from within by the user.

  2. Its even more appalling when the ATM had a CCTV, most likely put up by the bank. That should be sufficient for the police to follow up and catch the culprit. At best, we could discuss who foots the bill for those CCTVs.

    Its a) confusing why the responsibility is being shifted when the bank has done its job (by having a functional CCTV) and the pursuit and arrest can only be handled by the police.

    And, b) this is reminiscent of the common tendency of blame shifting and responsibility evasion prevalent in all bureaucracies including the police, who will argue endlessly about jurisdiction and other such things, wasting precious time that could be better used in prompt investigation, evidence collection and pursuit of the criminals. Its uncanny how this is an issue every time. The first order of business for the police seems to be determining basic jurisdiction on every case, rather than settling it beforehand at an institutional level. This is not quite the same thing, but it is reminiscent of this same systemic lack of clarity of what an institution is supposed to do.

  3. I am wondering why no UID opponents are not objecting to use of CCTV cameras in ATM kiosks and public places. Isn't the later too electronic surveillance and threat to individual liberties?

    1. They might. Why do you assume that they don't? ;)
      Security doesn't have to require a CCTV. Investigations for most crimes happen without evidence from CCTVs. That there was a CCTV here which makes prosecution easy does not mean that it was necessary or that such an event without CCTV evidence should not be efficiently investigated and brought to prosecution.

  4. Your premise is partly wrong. I'm also an economist and I understand 'non-rival' and 'non-excludable'.

    Firstly, comparing security in our country to that in developed countries' is quite faulty. Their issues are rather different, although the functions are the same. Even their ATMs are different. Most ATMs that I've seen in France don't have a kiosk. They're usually open and flushed into the exterior wall of a building. In that case, having a security guard is meaningless, at least during the day when people are around. During the night however, in the wake of an incident, the police are held responsible because it is still in public space.

    Secondly, having installed CCTV cameras banks do not guarantee security. Ex ante one feels secure if a CCTV camera has been installed. But ex post the crime, they're useful only in prosecution and not in the avoidance of the mishap entirely. If round the clock CCTV camera surveillance is implemented, probably then we can actually point fingers at the right person. Also, since miscreants in our society do not mind murder if they make a couple of tens of thousands of bucks (which is peanuts; not to them though), we need low profile policing in the form of 'lathi'-endowed security guards to shoo them away. I do understand that such crimes can be avoided completely in the long run if judicial punishment is maximized and the efficiency of police force is enhanced. But these are long term solutions and mind you, they're quite long term.

    Thirdly, it will be an endless debate of moral hazard, if we argue who is actually responsible for the crimes. Banks could probably be opening ATMs in high-risk areas without the consent of the RBI. Does the RBI even have a policy towards opening ATMs in crime-prone areas? If so, how are they calculated? Who takes responsibility to monitor the ATM kiosks in crime-prone areas? Do banks themselves conduct a study before opening an ATM on whether they are safe or not? (I think the RBI has a policy only for high-risk areas, e.g., Naxalite prone areas.)

    I agree with you on the fact that we must hold the police responsible and safety is a public good. But the argument is slightly different in this case. It is not the police's fault that the crime was not averted, but it is the police's responsibility to avoid crimes in general - the latter being the reason for their existence. I must ask, don't you think having a security guard seated outside the ATM would've been helpful in alerting the police? Wouldn't that make it easier for the police to deliver the public good of protection?

    1. 'I must ask, don't you think having a security guard seated outside the ATM would've been helpful in alerting the police? Wouldn't that make it easier for the police to deliver the public good of protection?' It would make work easier for the police but the blog post is about who should bear the cost of having this guard at the ATM, given that people are paying taxes for exactly the same thing.

      Also, the place where this attack took place is hardly crime-prone. Even if they had a policy about ATMs in crime-prone areas, this area would not have figured in that list.

  5. They might. Why do you assume that they don't? ;)
    Security doesn't have to require a CCTV. Investigations for most crimes happen without evidence from CCTVs.


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