Skip to content

10 Potentially Catastrophic Mistakes During Bank Robberies

by Tony Brissette

Most bank employees will never experience a bank robbery. But those who do will find it can be a very traumatic experience.

Approximately 80 percent of bank robberies involve a lone robber who holds up a lone teller. The bank robber may hand the teller a note and may or may not display a weapon. The robber's goal is to appear simply as a customer conducting a transaction. He doesn't want to be noticed and counts on only one witness - the teller.

Take-over robberies have been increasing in the last few years and can be extremely dangerous. These robbers, who usually travel in groups, will enter the bank with guns drawn and be very intimidating, creating a volatile situation. The robbers may jump the teller counter and force tellers down to the floor.

The Bank Protection Act requires that all employees and officers be trained annually on proper procedures for robberies, larcenies and burglaries. Most financial institutions will train their tellers but fail to recognize the importance of training all employees and officers regarding their responsibilities under the protection act. Unfortunately, this lack of training has resulted in some very dangerous actions taken by employees.

Annual security training of employees will meet the requirements of the Bank Protection Act but annually is not enough. Bank Security Officers should constantly be reminding tellers of their proper procedures during a robbery throughout the year. This can be accomplished by sending out memos, distributing newspaper stories or security articles about robberies, which is a form of continuing education.

In my capacity as Corporate Security Training Officer for a major bank located in Boston, Massachusetts I received reports on all bank robberies that occurred in the New England region. Most of these robberies were handled by tellers and employees in the proper manner but from time to time an employee would either not comply with the robber's demands or would do something that escalated the level of danger and exposed both employees and customers to increased danger. The following list of ten catastrophic mistakes committed by bank employees is based on those reports:

  1. Do not treat the hold up note as a joke or a prank.
    There have been several instances in which a teller has been handed a hold up note and believes the customer is joking. If the teller does not believe the note is serious, the robber may feel forced to display a weapon, escalating the likelihood of harm.

  2. Do not create any surprises for the robber.
    In some cases tellers have walked away from their teller station if they don't observe a weapon. Others have been advised to pretend to faint. These actions may be successful in thwarting the bank robber, who may simply run out of the bank. But if the robber is really desperate, the teller's actions may cause the robber to display a weapon and possibly grab a customer in the lobby. Do exactly what the robber tells you to do.

  3. Do not carry excess cash in your cash drawer.
    Bank robbers will come back if they're given large amounts of cash. Tellers should adhere to their bank's cash limits for both top drawer and teller station. If a teller accepts a large cash deposit, excess cash should be transferred to the head teller immediately.

  4. Do not offer to rob the bank for the robber.
    Only give to the robber the money demanded. Don't ask if the robber wants the cash in your second drawer.

  5. Do not attempt to bring attention to the robbery.
    Statistically bank employees who follow the bank robber's instructions are seldom injured in the course of a robbery. Handle the bank robber as you would a regular customer. Don't attempt to gain the attention of anyone else to alert them to what is going on. The most important role you have in this robbery is to ensure the safety of all employees and customers in the bank. Bringing attention to the robber could compromise the safety of all.

  6. Do not argue with the robber or attempt to talk him/her out of the robbery.
    Arguing, confronting or attempting to talk the robber out of the crime will increase the likelihood that others will become aware a robbery is in progress and escalate the level of danger.

  7. Do not tell customers that you have just been robbed.
    After one robbery, just as the robber reached the front door, the teller yelled out "grab him, he just robbed me." This was an extremely dangerous action that places the safety of employees and customers in danger. What if a customer did attempt to grab the robber and a struggle took place in which a weapon was used and either a customer or employee was injured or killed? On occasion customers, believing they are acting as good Samaritans, have confronted or chased robbers and increased the likelihood of danger to themselves and others.

  8. Do not ever leave the bank after a robbery.
    In numerous cases we found that after the bank robber left the branch, a bank employee will either exit the bank to see if they can observe the robber's getaway or - worse - actually pursue the bank robber in a chase. This type of action not only places the employee in danger but also poses a threat to others. If during such a chase or attempt to observe a robber that someone is injured, the bank will have potential liability in a possible civil action. This is an especially important message for non-retail employees who may not have been trained properly. Let the police chase the robber.

  9. In a take-over robbery, do not make sudden movements.
    Do not attempt to activate hold up alarms, run out of the bank, or attempt to call the police. Take-over robberies are extremely dangerous because the robbers are most likely displaying weapons. If you are on the telephone when a take-over robbery occurs hang the telephone up and do not answer any in-coming calls unless the robbers tell you to. Attempting to activate an alarm can also be very dangerous if the robbers observe you during your attempt. Do not try to escape the robbery, as robbers will be closely watching for this activity.

  10. Do not ever attempt to engage the robber(s) in a struggle.
    Although most of us would never imagine engaging a robber in a physical confrontation, there have been cases in which bank security guards, branch managers and other employees have physically confronted bank robbers. Remember this type of response to a robber increases the level of danger to all employees and customers in the bank.

Tony Brissette is a veteran of over 30 years as a Director of Security in Massachusetts. Now President of Brissette Consulting Services, Inc., in Shrewsbury, MA, he specializes in bank security training programs. He can be reached at (508) 842-2500.

Copyright © 2003 Bankers' Hotline. Originally appeared in Bankers' Hotline, Vol. 12, No. 12, 3/03

First published on 03/01/2003

Banker Store View All

From training, policies, forms, and publications, to office products and occasional gifts, it’s available here:

Banker Store

hot right now

image description

Looking for effective, convenient training on a particular subject?

BOL Learning Connect offers more than 200 courses ON-DEMAND or on CD ROM from AML to Reg Z and every topic in between.

Search Topics