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Metal Detector at Chase Bank 'Insulting to Community,' Group Says

By Wendell Hutson | April 7, 2014 6:39am
 A Chase Bank branch in Grand Crossing opened in 2004 and did so with a front entrance metal detector.
A Chase Bank branch in Grand Crossing opened in 2004 and did so with a front entrance metal detector.
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DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson

GRAND CROSSING — The Greater Chatham Alliance is demanding that a metal detector at a South Side Chase Bank — the only Chase branch in Chicago with such a security measure — be removed immediately.

"It is insulting to the community," Roosevelt Vonil, president of the nonprofit community organization, said of the detector at the front entrance at the Chase Bank at 8151 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

"I don't like it, customers don't want it and residents feel disrespected by it," Vonil said. "What gets me is this metal detector was created from day one, which means Chase entered our community with their minds made up that this is a dangerous place to do business."

 The Greater Chatham Alliance is demanding that a front entrance metal detector at a South Side Chase Bank branch be removed immediately.
The Greater Chatham Alliance is demanding that a front entrance metal detector at a South Side Chase Bank branch be removed immediately.
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DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson

The detector was the subject of protests by the Rev. Michael Pfleger when it was installed in 2004 when the branch opened, but Vonil's group said residents and customers of the bank are still upset about it.

"I did not know about the metal detector until recently, but now that I do, I am encouraging residents to contact Chase and let them know how they feel," Vonil said. "I understand banks need to protect their employees and customers, but Chase has gone a little too far. If they are that fearful, then they should not be in the community."

The branch already has an armed security guard, and customers must use separate doors to enter and exit the building. The design of the front entrance allows the bank to lock a would-be robber in the hallway.

Vonil said the bank could also install bulletproof glass at the teller counter like other banks use rather than require customers to walk through a detector.

The New York-based Chase has 127 Chicago branches, including in Englewood, Auburn Gresham and Roseland, but only the branch in Grand Crossing has a metal detector, said Christine Holevas, a spokeswoman for JP Morgan Chase & Co.

"When branches have a history of robberies or our peer banks in the neighborhood have a history of robberies, we put in the additional security measures like bullet-resistant glass," Holevas said. While "we usually use bullet-resistant glass, not all branches" have it.

Holevas added that the secured entrance vestibule was previously installed to ensure the safety of customers and employees, and at that time the thought was that the community wouldn’t like bullet-resistant glass. Metal detectors have also been installed in other branches outside the city and state, but they aren't used when opening new branches anymore.

"Moving forward, we decided to use [bullet-resistant] glass when circumstances called for additional security measures," Holevas said. "We don’t plan to change the security measures at the Cottage Grove branch at this time."

When the bank first opened the branch the Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham, had protested the security measure, which required customers who had passed through the detector to wait before a green light turned on before they could enter the bank. Late last week, Pfleger said he was still opposed to their use, even though the light system was no longer being used.

"It should be removed immediately. The use of a metal detector is purely a stereotype. And unless they are going to put it in every branch, it should not be used in any branches," Pfleger said. "People should stop going to that branch until the metal detector is removed."

Pfleger added that most banks robbed are located Downtown and the Near North Side.

"Those banks don't have metal detectors and many do not have bulletproof glass either. If we allow this to continue then other businesses will think it's OK to use," Pfleger said.

Joan Hyde, a spokeswoman for the Chicago FBI office, said the Grand Crossing branch has not experienced a rash of robberies since it opened. It was robbed once, on April 21, 2006.

The security measure is rare, Hyde said, but she said they have been used in other states.

"We work closely with banks and recommend they use whatever security measure works best for them," Hyde said.

Customers who visited the branch recently for the first time were upset by the security measure.

Jamie Sanders, 37, who moved to Grand Crossing in January to care for her mother, said she was taken aback by the presence of the detector after using the indoor ATM at the branch.

"Last week I ... discovered it had a metal detector just like the one at the airport,'' Sanders said. "I couldn't believe it."

Ramsey Taylor, who lives in south suburban Flossmoor, visited the branch Wednesday for the first time.

"It was shocking to see that," Taylor said. "Little did I know that I would have to go through a metal detector to get some dough. I'm glad I don't live out this way."

Yvette Humphrey, who has lived in Grand Crossing for 14 years, said she would no longer do business with Chase as long as it uses a metal detector.

"It is not that serious for me to do business with a bank so scared of the neighborhood that it needs a metal detector to screen customers," Humphrey said. "Banks Downtown get robbed all the time and there are no metal detectors there. ... A lot of banks Downtown don't even have bulletproof glass."

Still, some customers weren't bothered by the precaution.

"It's fine with me. I don't see anything wrong with it. They have to protect their customers some kind of way," said Jessie Pullman.

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), whose ward includes the Chase branch, was unavailable for comment.