Safety & Security

Cellphone Used Not Allowed Inside Banks – Is It Logical?

BY: Nick Torre III • May 08, 2019

One of my pet peeves is being told by a bank security guard, “Sir, bawal po ang cellphone sa loob ng bank.”  I used to explain to the guards that this prohibition does not make any sense at all but now, I just usually comply without a whimper.  But when I am in a bad mood and feels like spiting the guard, I simply go in and out of the bank as I want just to use my cellphone!  Hahaha!  Let us examine the history of the prohibition and the reasons and logic behind it.

A quick net search show that the earliest regulation prohibiting cellphones inside the banks was passed in Chicago in early 2000s. Even then, it was immediately met with derision and criticism.  The reason given is that purportedly, there are criminals using the technology to perpetrate their crime such as robbery of the bank itself or the customers who had just left the bank.  Philippine banks soon followed suit and some local governments such as Makati affirmed the measure through legislation in City Ordinance 2002-121.  The same reason was given: prevent crime. But does it?

There were previous articles that criticized the measure and one lawyer, Atty Rod Vera made a very good piece pointing out its illegality.  Among others, Atty Vera pointed out constitutional provisions and statutory construction principles in defending his argument that the measure is in violation of several basic laws that govern the Philippines.  For this article, let me concentrate on the tactical basis of the regulations.

As a former intelligence and operations officer in Quezon City Police District, I had personal experience investigating actual robberies victimizing the bank itself or customers who had just withdrawn large amounts of cash such as the finance officers of companies who withdrew payroll money during paydays.  In all the cases that I am personally privy to, I have yet to come across information stating the robbers actually used cellphones in casing the target bank or picking out random customers.  There is no question however, that robber do communicate with each other using cellphones.  Especially in after-bank-withdrawal incidents, there were several incidents where confiscated cellphones reveal the communications between the ‘spotter’ and the actual perpetrators.  But here is the catch:  invariably, most of these incidents were inside jobs where the ‘spotters’ were not total strangers to the victims, thus, did not need to be inside the bank to know that the victims were carrying large amounts of cash!  In short, with or without the cellphone, the victim would be victimized and the robbery consummated, no matter what. 

For incidents victimizing the bank itself, studies show that cellphone prohibition does not make a difference at all.  Primarily, the robbers personally case the target bank themselves.  Days or weeks before, the robbers will definitely find ways to actually go inside the bank and observe its operations.  They also conduct discreet reconnaissance to determine the so-called ‘terrain’, get the feel of the area, and observe the so-called active opposition—guards, police, and the likes.  It is not like that, a lone spotter goes in the bank and describes everything that happens inside to his cohorts through text!

Therefore, cellphone use or its prohibition would and did not make any difference for this aspect.

So what did the measures actually achieve so far in relation to bank security?  From my personal point of view, it achieved exactly nothing and actually did the opposite by making profile identification of probable criminals more difficult.  From the opposite angle, not prohibiting the use of cellphones can even be used to the advantage of bank security officers.  Coupled with profiling and sound observation and description principles, bank security officers can actively identify potential criminal spotters in their premises and help the police in neutralizing these people even before they actually carry out their nefarious activities.  I had discussed many applicable techniques in a previous article about surveillance detection also published in this magazine.

It is time to give this measure a second look and send it to the trash bins ASAP!

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