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Bank Robbery-A National Problem

by Bill Wipprecht

Bill Wipprecht is Security Director of Wells Fargo Bank NA, in San Francisco, and a member of the ABA Security & Risk Management Committee. He gives presentations nationwide to bankers and law enforcement on Security matters and will be doing a workshop on robbery at the BAI Conference in April. This is the fourth and final installment of his series on Robbery.

At certain locations you may need to hire armed personnel to protect the banking office. Let's face it, some offices are robbed three or more times a year. Multiple holdups often create staff anger that leads to security breaches such as tellers refusing to give money or running after robbers. Or the banking office staff may develop a siege mentality: suspicious, fearful, demoralized and often think about quitting. Staff members may experience significant psychological distress resulting in personal problems. This can affect the way they conduct your business as they take out their fears and frustrations on your customers.

The street crazies and dopers are everywhere and they've all been told robbing a bank is a piece of cake. Street-wise hoods often overrun a uniformed, unarmed guard because they know these guards have no real authority. So, to maintain that friendly, open environment and keep the staff from walking out, an armed security person may be your only option if you wish to continue to do business in vulnerable locations.

Pay More And Hire The Best ...
When hiring armed personnel, the rule is simple and steadfast: pay more and hire the best. Your first choice should be to contract with the local police department for a uniformed, off-duty officer. If the city has a policy against this, try to get the city to reverse the policy. Cops aren't overpaid to begin with and the robber jeopardizes the lives of all citizens. What you are really paying for then is additional police protection through prevention.

In most cases you won't find that there is a conflict with the city. Many jurisdictions allow their officers to work off-duty in their own and/or other towns.

If you can't get help from the police department then it may be necessary to contract with a local security firm who provides armed specialists. Make sure their specialists are retired or active off-duty police officers. Never hire run-of-the-mill uniformed contract guards to carry weapons. You're asking for trouble.

?most people have a better chance of knowing a bank robber today than winning the lottery? Okay, so your bank is against guards of any type because of the monthly expense. (Unarmed uniformed guards in California cost around $2,500 a month to cover most banking hours. Armed off-duty police officers are twice that.) But many banking offices do require additional protection.

"Bandit Barriers"?
?may be a viable option.

"Bandit barriers" is the common name for protective enclosures made of bullet resistant glass or plastic protecting the teller area from counter to ceiling. Steel is used under the counter. (Although bandit barriers strongly discourage would-be robbers from committing crimes, recent history shows the prevention aspect is better termed "deflection" as it seems the robber typically strikes at the nearest banking office without a barrier and robs it. But, hey, it's not your office!)

Most protective barriers can be installed for about $1,000 per linear foot. Compare this capitalized expense with that of a guard and you have a relatively short payback, real protection for the tellers and a visible security image which will repel 99% of all robbers.

"What About The Platform People?!"
Oh, yes, for those of you now saying, "But what about the poor platform people?"?they are actually at less risk than without the barrier.

Remember, the robber's immediate goal is quick access to the cash. They want to get in and out as quickly as possible. If they have to go to the trouble of taking a hostage from the platform, it will slow them down and increase their risks.

It's true that platform personnel are occasionally taken hostage, but statistics show that it happens less often in financial institutions with bandit barriers, for the simple reason that they are robbed less often.

Electronic Tracking Devices?
?and tear gas/dye packs do not prevent robberies but do assist in bandit apprehension. Hidden in currency, electronic tracking devices provide a miniature transmitter that allows police to track and locate robbery suspects while they still have the money. The best part of this technology is that apprehensions are made away from the banking office. The newest transmitter is no larger than a computer chip and goes virtually unnoticed by the robber. Unfortunately, this technology is only available in a few cities and is sometimes pricey. But, in cities where they are being used, arrests are made on a regular basis.

Exploding tear gas/dye packs have been available for several years and recent technology has led to a more flexible pack, making them easier to pass, unnoticed, to the robber. Such packs explode when the robber leaves the office resulting in the release of a cloud of red dye which stains the robber's skin and the money and tear gas which most times hinders the bandit temporarily and thus aids police in making an arrest. The price per pack is reasonable and the manufacturer of the devices reimburses the financial institution up to the amount of the cost of the system installation if the robber gets away clean with the cash.

Reward Programs?
Reward programs, such as the one instituted on the west coast by Wells Fargo Bank, Bank of America and First Interstate have generated a great deal of positive publicity and are strongly supported by the FBI. Also, employee and customer response has been 100% favorable because it shows these institutions are doing something!

I suggest every financial institution establish a standing reward policy for the identification, arrest and conviction of bank robbers. The FBI, local law enforcement and the media should be advised of the reward every time a robbery occurs at your institution. Since most bandits rob many different financial institutions, your area banks, S&Ls and credit unions should offer a combined, lump sum reward for bandits who rob multiple locations. And reward money can also be offered to the FBI and local law enforcement for their use as "snitch" pay offs. If they need money to buy information about bank robbers, give it to them up front. It's better than paying after another robbery occurs.

Even Without Rewards?
In 1990 and 1991 the California Bankers Association ran a full page "Wanted Poster" ad with photos of sixteen area bank robbers in the Los Angeles Times. No rewards were offered, just the phone number of the local FBI office. Nine of the sixteen robbers were identified and arrested. Although the ad space was anything but free, the results were extraordinarily positive. Why not try this where you are?

Anonymous Tip Line?
My last recommendation for reversing the national robbery trend is instituting a local or statewide anonymous tip line. In today's violent climate there exists an urgent need to develop a safe and lawful hotline system by which citizens can report names of known robbers to authorities anonymously. Let's face it, most people have a better chance of knowing a bank robber today than winning the lottery, so let's give them a "chance of a lifetime" to claim that reward without direct interface with law enforcement. We must admit to the seamy side of life by acknowledging that people who do know bank robbers are usually very reluctant to talk openly with the FBI or local police. The anonymous tip line solves all the problems. Talk to your local FBI about it.

Is any one of the above recommendations alone going to reverse the national robbery phenomena this country is experiencing? Probably not. Unfortunately, with drugs as the primary motivator for virtually all crime in this country, it may be as many as two generations before we can significantly reduce the occurrence of violent street crime and solve this problem.

There is just too much violence in this country and much of it today is directed towards us. Yet, most financial institutions have not yet acknowledged the problem above the Security Director's level because it is not happening to their own business. But it's happening to somebody! We're setting new robbery records every year with increased injuries to staff, customers and greater monetary losses to all financial institutions.

Good Old Days?
We need to return to the good old days of banking. We need to increase our commitment to old fashioned cash controls and decrease our emphasis for quick return and immediate payback. Security is not an all- cash payback business. The payback manifests itself in many ways: lower dollar losses, fewer business interruptions, employees feeling safe at work, less stress related claims, and customers feeling safe while conducting business.

Along with the brick and mortar for banking offices, financial institutions are going to have to install apprehension devices and work collectively to ensure a sound security foundation for the protection of assets, employees and customers.

Copyright © 1993 Bankers' Hotline. Originally appeared in Bankers' Hotline, Vol. 3, No. 8, 1/93

First published on 01/01/1993

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