What do bulletproof drive-thru windows say about your city?

The contraption at the KFC/Taco Bell in North Philadelphia goes to great lengths to crime out.  Rikard Larma/METRO
The contraption at the KFC/Taco Bell in North Philadelphia seems to say a lot about crime in the city. Credit: Rikard Larma/Metro

Pull around to the window at the KFC/Taco Bell on North Broad Street and you’ll meet The Contraption.

The hulking clear drawer attached to the drive-thru window at the restaurant near West Allegheny Street is a preventive measure typically used by banks. A barrier between the customer and the clerk.

There is no face-to-face interaction. Customers stuff their money into the drawer, and the clerk pushes the food back out.

Is the extent a fast-food chain will go to protect its stores really an indictment of this city?

Ben Mannes, an expert on security measures, said this is not a recent development.

“So it’s not that new and sophisticated other than the fact it’s in a place that you wouldn’t expect to see it,” he said. “It’s just you’re seeing it at a Taco Bell and you’re going, ‘Wow, really, for an 89-cent beef burrito?’”

Mannes volunteers with the Philadelphia InfraGard, which is a partnership between private industry and the FBI, to share information about how to best to protect precious information. His day job is director of test security for the American Board of Internal Medicine and he worked 10 years with the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.

He said these drawers have been in operation for about 20 years.

“But the concept of protecting these late-night establishments the way you would protect a bank goes back well into the crack explosion, which was the tremendous surge in violent crime in the late 80s and early 90s,” Mannes said.

“And it’s a local response to that,” he added, “How do you keep your business open so you can stay in business and try to keep yourself from becoming a target at the same time?”

He has worked in poverty-stricken, high-crime areas. They did have the devices at the drive-thrus at those neighborhoods as well. And has been used in the past 12 years in high-crime areas. It’s essentially an anti-robbery device, he said.

Yum! Brands, Inc., which owns and operates Taco Bell and KFC, did not return repeated requests for comment.

Bulletproof drive-thru glass can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $30,000.

“It’s not just the fast food place,” he said. “Look, there is the appearance of security and there’s real security. Some of the blatant appearances of security that you see that are really quite ineffective dictate the class that lives there.”

“And it’s kind of a sad indictment on the lowering of the quality of life in a lot of these communities because you’d be surprised what people would rob and steal as opposed to what you’d think they’d rob and steal.”

“People go to what they know,” he said. “So if that’s in your community at 2 a.m., you’re going to rob that.”


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