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Bank Robberies 2001 - Part II

By Bill Wipprecht, CPP

Financial institutions should develop an aggressive prevention strategy to combat robberies. Some measures are employed for prevention, some apprehension, and some accomplish both objectives. The following is an abbreviated list, in ascending order, of those security measures one can employ to combat this problem.

1) Training
Training has always been the core of robbery prevention. Properly trained team members aid in protecting their safety and the safety of others, ensuring that security devices at the branch are working properly and are used during a robbery, and through proper cash controls so that losses are kept to a minimum.

2) Surveillance cameras
Surveillance cameras are primarily for apprehension but when properly deployed can prevent bank robberies. (Statistically, almost all bank robbers get their photograph taken during a bank robbery. But, with an average of 7,000 bank robberies a year, one could hardly declare a surveillance system a prevention tool.) The value of the surveillance system is the developed photograph. I have said for years, "No photo, no crime" since that photograph is usually the only evidence law enforcement has in finding the perpetrator. All new systems must be color digital CCTV. When properly installed, a queue line monitor may act as a deterrent to bank robbers.

3) Reward Program
Rewards offered for original information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of suspects are a primary apprehension tool for law enforcement. When properly advertised, they also subtly tell the employees and customers the financial institution cares about their safety and security. Don't be cheap. $5,000 or more is not too much to pay to take a robber off the street who risks the lives of your employees and customers. Remember, most people are more likely to know a bank robber than win the lottery, so this is their chance of a lifetime. We use "WeTip" as our primary provider because of their multi-language operators, 24-hour hotline and 48 state coverage. How effective can your reward program be? Since re-instituting our program in 1991, we have paid out $715,950 for the arrest of 216 bank robbers, that's a mere $3,315 each.

4) Unarmed Guards
Security guards always generate a lot of discussion. Briefly, unarmed guards are primarily preventative tools. Hopefully their presence will deflect the robber(s) to another location. They are often your first line of defense but can also be used to control social related issues in the branch.

5) Explosive Devices and Tracking Systems
These products can be for both prevention and apprehension. They can be preventative if the word gets out that they are used in a certain area but their main function is for apprehension. If you want the teller pass rate to be around 75% annually, security departments must understand that it is their responsibility to provide appropriate training specific to these branches at least semi-annually. We cannot depend on the vendor to provide this training for several reasons, least of which is constant turnover and time-limited access to tellers to conduct the training.

6) Police Tellers
Police tellers are just that, off-duty police officers who are hired as tellers in very select locations. These officers are paid at their police salary rate, are trained as tellers, work in plain clothes, and have the same sales and service goals as regular tellers. They are used in frequently robbed and high fraud rate branches. Their primary job is for the safety and security of the branch. They are told to "observe and report" any incident, similar to a security guard.

7) Off-Duty Police Officers
If armed personnel are required due to a significant robbery problem, then pay more and hire the best. Your first choice should be your local police department for a uniformed police officer. 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 they are retired or active off-duty law enforcement officers only. They may be expensive, but when defending the institution in court should an incident occur, it's good to know it was a professional who was involved in the action.

8) Bandit Barriers
Bandit barriers should be used when it has been demonstrated that all other measures, including permanent guards, continue to fail as a deterrent to robbery. At a cost of about a $1,000 per linear foot, the paybacks can be achieved in a relatively short period of time. Bandit barriers have been proven to reduce robberies and increase safety for employees and customers. Our validated study showed a branch with a bandit barrier has only a 25% chance of being robbed after the barrier is installed.

It doesn't matter where you are located, your financial institution must have a strategy for managing bank robberies. My greatest concern now is that bank robberies will again be on the rise. If this turns out to be true, we expect the robbers will be more violent than ever before.

According to the demographics, we have a new group of young adults who were raised in an era of unknown prosperity. Many of them will resort to bank robbery and other crimes when they realize they do not have the education or skill to support themselves at a level they need to continue their excessive use of alcohol or drugs, and will resort to the violence they have been exposed to on a daily basis through television, movies, the news, and in some cases, their own homes.

It's impossible to discuss all robbery prevention security measures let alone all of the pros and cons of each. However, an escalating robbery prevention program is a must at every financial institution. Most robberies can be prevented, and when they can't, we have a responsibility to aid law enforcement in the apprehension of the robber(s).

While I can't say what will specifically work for financial institutions in your part of the country, great work by law enforcement, the reward program, and the installation of bandit barriers are the three primary reasons for the reduction of bank robberies in Los Angeles.

Bill Wipprecht is Senior Vice President and Director of Security at Wells Fargo Bank, NA, in San Francisco, California. He has bank-wide responsibility for the physical and operational security programs for the retail branch system, cash vault operations, data centers, and facilities. He is the author of "Workplace Violence in the Financial Institution." Bill has been an advisor to the BANKERS' HOTLINE since 1990.

Copyright © 2002 Bankers' Hotline. Originally appeared in Bankers' Hotline, Vol. 12, No. 8, 10/02

First published on 10/01/2002

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