Bank robbery -- that's still where the
American banks endured 8,259 robberies, burglaries
and larcenies in 2001.
Nationwide, bank robberies increased by about 9 percent
in 2001 compared with 2000. On average, about $4,400 is stolen per
It happens to banks large and small.
When Pilsen State Bank in Lincolnville, Kan., population
225, was robbed by two armed men in October 2001, bank president
Kurt Spachek was eating lunch in a room away from the main banking
area and didn't know what had happened until it was over.
When Spachek's bank was held up again in March 2002
by a single robber, who Spachek believed was one of the guys from
the October robbery, the man ordered Spachek and four employees
into a bathroom.
Spachek waited for the robber to leave and then jumped
in his pickup truck and unsuccessfully chased the bad guy for eight
miles through the farming and ranching community.
"I was mad. I'd seen what it did to the employees
the first time, and he had the nerve to come in the second time.
I wanted it stopped before he did it to someone else."
The FBI, along with the banking and technology industries, is trying
to make it more difficult for people to rob banks and make it easier
to identify the ones who do.
"One area under review right now is transitioning
to digital cameras instead of using film or video tape," says
FBI agent Ken Neu. "The best quality is the most expensive.
We want to determine what is a good standard before the banking
industry buys a lot of equipment."
Costs aside, most banks don't want to appear as armed
fortresses for fear of alienating and intimidating customers. But
security experts say banks with upgraded security measures are less
likely to be targeted by robbers.
"Electricity, water and crooks all seek the path
of least resistance. Put a couple of speed bumps in front of them
and they'll go hit someone who's not as prepared," according
to security consultant Dana Turner of Security Education Systems
in Pipe Creek, Texas.
Turner says banks should have teller counter barriers
and security portals. Security portals are a double set of doors
at bank entrances -- you can't go through the second door until
the first one closes behind you. Turner says crooks stay away from
banks that have them because they can get trapped between the two
doors when they're trying to escape.
Barriers at the teller counter involve counter-to-ceiling
Neu says the FBI often recommends armed guards, but
he admits it's not the answer in all cases and may even make a bad
Jerome Olin, president of Commerce Bank & Trust
in Worcester, Mass., says the question of whether to have armed
guards is a tough one.
"We don't have guards. It's very expensive and
we've elected not to do it. We've taken the route of making sure
our employees know what to do -- that they cooperate. The money
can be replaced. One hopes, the robber does as little damage as
possible and leaves."
Olin speaks from experience; his branches have been
robbed three times so far this year.
There are no regulations concerning the amount of
training employees receive regarding procedures during a bank robbery,
according to Irma Rabusa of the American Bankers Association.
While all banks schedule training on a regular basis,
Rabusa says, training differs from one location to the next.
"Training at a bank in Iowa will be different
from one in New York City."
Small-town robberies on the
Maybe it shouldn't. Bank robberies in small cities and towns increased
by more than 35 percent from 1996 to 2001 and by almost 20 percent
in rural areas.
"I'd agree there are more rural robberies,"
says Kurt Spachek. "My best guess is there may be a little
less security, maybe less chance of cameras, less sophisticated
cameras, maybe older, outdated equipment that doesn't work quite
as well. Attitudes might be a little lax, much like the first time
we got hit. It can't happen here."
But Spachek's employees knew what to do when it counted.
They did what they were told, and no one was hurt.
Spachek, the robber-chasing bank president, would
be the first to tell employees not to do what he did.
The FBI's Ken Neu says the same advice holds for customers
who happen to be in the bank during a robbery.
"Customers have to be alert and aware of their
surroundings and what's going on. Don't panic and don't do anything
foolish. Do what needs to be done for your protection and safety."
To find out why most bank robberies happen on Fridays,
and other bank robbery facts, click
-- Posted: June 7, 2002