IF today is like any other weekday, someone will walk into a South Florida bank and leave with about $2,000 of someone else's money. Bank robbers in the Southern District of Florida, the federal jurisdiction that stretches from Key West to Vero Beach, are among the busiest in the country. Every year, they hit about 250 banks - one for every business day in the calender.
According to FBI statistics, Florida ranks right behind California in bank robberies. But what makes the heists in South Florida unique, FBI agents say, is that chances of getting caught are "very good."
"We solve about 75 percent of the bank robberies here," says Steve Warner, the Bank Robbery Unit coordinator for the Miami FBI office. "It may appear to be an easy kind of big-money robbery, but it definitely is not."
Despite this high probability of getting caught, the message apparently hasn't gotten through. Bank robberies are up this year, creating longer days for FBI agents and federal prosecutors.
"The thinking of bank robbers hasn't changed much over the years," says Metro-Dade detective Juan Del Castillo. "The bank robber Willie Sutton was once asked why he robs banks, and his well-known reply was 'That's where the money is.'"
But those money tanks are assisting law enforcement officials to solve this problem. Although it remains a bank's choice, most have sophisticated surveillance cameras in place - often catching the offender's face on tape.
"It's hard to deny that's you holding a gun to the teller's head," says US Attorney Kendall Coffey. "That way an arrest for bank robbery invariably leads to a conviction."
Banks take some other approaches too. A teller may package the cash in "dye packs," bags timed to spill bright dye all over the robber.
"Bait money" is often slipped in among the wads of cash turned over to bank robbers. This money has all of its serial numbers registered with the FBI and makes tracking the stolen money to the robber considerably easier.
Foiling bank robberies often plays a part in the design of a bank. …