"Can You Describe the Robber, Please?"
by Barbara Hurst, BOL Guru
After a hold-up or a take-down bank robbery, the request first heard by those involved is to describe the perpetrators. The descriptions are sometimes so dissimilar that you wonder if everyone saw the same person. One might say "very tall - over 6 feet" while another claims "about average height - 5 foot 10 inches or so." We've found the 'guess' at the height of the robber depends how tall the person was who was filling out the form, and whether or not they looked at the height indicator on their window or the branch door.
During security training sessions, I've had an unknown 'volunteer' walk in, interrupt me by walking to the front of the room, stand there and talk to me for a full 30 seconds, turn and scan the room full face front, and then leave. As soon as he walked out, I would immediately ask the class to describe him. My 'volunteer' was often my husband, who has been described by classes to have been anywhere from 35 to 70 years of age, with and without eyeglasses, slender and husky, with long dark hair and one time (my favorite) bald! He wouldn't do it anymore after that one.
Not everyone has an artist's instinctive perception for details or a natural ability to communicate that which they observe. But what most front line employees don't realize is that giving accurate descriptions is a skill that can be learned and honed. By practicing descriptions, we can become more accurate.
This is an important skill when it comes to apprehending criminals, particularly when there is harm done during a robbery. Early in my career as a security officer, we trained front line people through exercises and drills to describe fellow employees or people who came into the lobby or office. At the morning meeting the next day a description would be read, and everyone would try to guess who the subject was. Although a learning exercise, it was fun, and before long the descriptions became much more correct.
Though we did this on a branch wide basis, we concentrated our efforts in our high-risk branches. A robbery there would sometimes be with a disguise, so some of our instructions were to concentrate on what you could see, and memorize detail as much as possible.
Our education paid off in a surprising way one particular time. The robbery was a takeover, and staff was ordered to get on the floor. Though wearing hoods, one robber was standing just a couple of feet away from one of our youngest tellers. She concentrated on his sneaker. She really concentrated. After the robbers left (without anyone being hurt) she sat down and wrote two pages of description on that sneaker! When the suspects were arrested, that two page description paid off. The sneaker was described perfectly. Police had no trouble matching it to one that was worn by one of the robbers when he was apprehended.
How much training does it take to get staff up to speed? Certainly a lot in high-risk areas, where clear and accurate descriptions quickly given are important. But bank-wide, it makes sense to have employees all through the branch system that know how to describe a person - accurately.
First published on BankersOnline.com 7/1/04
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