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Bank Robberies 2001, Part I

By Bill Wipprecht, CPP. In the late 1980's, this country experienced a dramatic increase in the number of bank robberies culminating at an all-time record in 1992 with 9,531. The seven-county FBI region in Los Angeles led the country that year with an amazing 2,641 bank robberies, 28% of all robberies nationwide.

FBI Statistics
The FBI annual Bank Crime Statistics (BCS) report 7,087 bank robberies nationwide in 2000. At first glance, this would appear to be a favorable trend. However, if you analyze the robbery statistics for the past 10 years, the average number of robberies nationally remains about 7,000 per year. I would submit to you that nothing has changed at the national level. The only real decline has been in Los Angeles and they, alone, have contributed to the overall national drop in bank robberies.

In 2000, the Los Angeles FBI region reported only 694 robberies. That's 1,947 less robberies than in 1992 - only 26% of their 1992 record total (can you say that for your city?). It appears to me that the Los Angeles financial and law enforcement communities have made great strides in reducing bank robberies while the rest of the country has made little progress.

17 Deaths On The Job Daily
According to recent studies by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 6,200 persons are killed on the job every year in the USA, that's 17 persons every day of the week. In 1999, for the first time, homicides fell to 3rd place behind highway accidents and falls as the leading cause of workplace related deaths. However, the bad news is that robbery is still the primary motive for workplace related homicides (77%).

So who's at risk? Again, according to the BLS, high-risk occupations are retail store clerks, bartenders, taxi drivers and police officers/guards. All are easy targets for robbers except for the police officers who are usually killed pursuing the suspect.The "at-risk" factors for these occupations are several: they all work with cash, tend to work alone, work late at night, and work in high crime areas. The classic example is the "mom and pop" all night grocery store. Both mom and pop are often likely to resist and risk their lives during a robbery because it's their store and their hard-earned money. Now compare this to the teller position.

Teller Job Not High Risk
Interestingly, our tellers are not included in these noted high-risk occupations but are combined with real estate agents and finance workers due to the small number of incidents each year. This group (with the majority being real estate agents being killed in auto accidents) makes up less than 2% of the total number of work related deaths.

Risk Factors
Yes, tellers work with cash and often work in high crime areas, but they do not work alone or late at night (10 p.m. To 4 a.m.). And, as important as these two risk factors are, tellers have two more advantages: they know it's not their money and they all receive safety training (they do, don't they?) This is what the financial industry has done better than any other industry and I believe is the primary reason the actual number of employee related deaths during a robbery are significantly lower than any other industry.

Only one employee was killed during a bank robbery in 2000 while 19 robbers were expunged by police. We teach tellers to be aware of the situation, cooperate with the robber, give them what they ask for (and no more) and not to resist. Due to these actions, most robbers are, as they say, "gone in sixty seconds". A 1986 Chicago study by Zimring and Zuehl supports this long-term financial tradition and showed that victims who resisted were 49 times more likely to be killed than those who cooperated.

Can't "Profile" A Bank Robber
Unfortunately, in spite of all the studies, bank robbers are impossible to categorize or predict. We in the industry use such non-relevant terms such as "lone note-passer" and "counter jumpers".

Who would have guessed that over the past two years, that a 71 year old retired Palo Alto, Ca. pharmacist, a Brooklyn couple en route to their wedding, a Bessemer, Alabama preacher, the lead San Francisco air traffic controller, a 10 and 13 year old girl from Baldwin, Pennsylvania, and an Ohio University professor would all be charged with bank robbery. While all of these individuals had their own reasons for robbing a bank, the overall excuse given to law enforcement is the need for quick cash to support a drug or alcohol habit. The FBI BCS report for 2000 indicates that 50% of the robbers were users of narcotics and 17% were found to have been previously convicted of bank robbery.

Top Two Worries
According to Dr. Rosemary J. Erickson in her book, "Armed Robbers And Their Crimes" the two top considerations for the robbers during her two related studies are: 1) the escape route and 2) the amount of money. As much as security professionals would like to think, we are not going to control either of these.

For example, we may be able to influence a branch manager to put up a fence or close off a rear parking lot entrance door, but financial institutions are always going to build branches in high visibility, easily accessible locations such as corner lots near freeway off-ramps. The sooner we in the security business understand such properties are prime retail locations, the sooner the security experts in the business will look for the proper prevention tools to protect the assets and not worry over where the branch is located.

Security's Job
In my opinion, it's Retail's job to find the best business location, it's Security's job to recommend the right level of protection for the business. To support this point, the FDIC reported the number of bank branches increased from 61,000 in 1990 to almost 70,000 today. More branches, more money!

In the next issue of the BANKERS' HOTLINE we'll consider some of the tactics financial institutions can employ to successfully combat bank robbery.

To be continued...

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. 7, 9/02

First published on 09/01/2002

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