Bank robbery is costly at both a human level and a financial level. In order to minimise these costs, crime prevention measures need to be applied that are appropriate to the methods employed by bank robbers.
Bank robbery has traditionally been seen as the domain of "professional" armed offenders, although there is little evidence to suggest that all bank robbers today are professional, or even armed. This paper examines recent trends in bank robbery and how robbers operate. It presents information collated by the Australian Bankers' Association (ABA) and contrasts findings with a similar analysis of Australian bank robbery conducted in the 1980s.
Results suggest that Australian bank robbery in Australia is on the decline, and that the types of robbers committing such offences may have changed over the past two decades: they are planning less, using fewer weapons, and instead relying more on sheer numbers to intimidate bank staff. It seems that these new methods are less profitable for offenders because bank robbers fail more often than they did in the 1980s. Unfortunately, appropriate security measures to contend with changing robbery methods are not easily prescribed, although the present research provides information that could help to enhance crime prevention in this area.
Robbery and Bank Robbers
In its exploration of recent trends in bank robbery, this paper draws on Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data, as well as information from the Armed Attacks Database compiled by the Australian Bankers' Association (the organisation that represents Australian banks). This database contains details of the range of crimes perpetrated against member banks, although its name is somewhat of a misnomer because, as will be seen, not all attacks are armed. The database relates to the period 2 January 1998 to 3 May 2002 and, of the 848 incidents recorded, the overwhelming majority (831, or 98 per cent) were described as hold-ups. Only these holdups are considered in the following discussion. For current purposes, the words "hold-up" and "robbery" are used interchangeably.
The total recorded number of robbery victims attacked in any location in Australia has more than doubled since 1993 (when national crime statistics were first collated), with similar rates of increase in both armed and unarmed robbery (ABS 2002b). Popular images of robbery often depict banks as targets, yet ABS figures indicate that only a small proportion of robbery victims experience this crime in a bank. Of the 26,565 victims of (armed and unarmed) robbery recorded Australia-wide for the year 2001, 458 (or 1.7 per cent) were victimised in a bank. The annual number of bank robbery victims reported to the ABS since 1993 is shown in Figure 1. This figure also plots the relative percentages of victims who experienced robbery in a bank location as a proportion of all robbery victims in all locations. As illustrated, the number of bank robbery victims fluctuated in the early 1990s but tended to decrease in the latter half of the decade. The highest number of victimisations occurred in 1997-98, even though around this same time victims in banks tended to constitute a smaller percentage of all robbery victims.
Although the number of victims is relatively small, the financial loss to banks can be high. An examination of robbery in New South Wales during the 1980s indicated that of all location types, banks produced the highest median gains for robbers (NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research 1987). Similarly, the possible human costs can be sizeable. Prior research (Mouzos & Carcach 2001) has shown that unlike virtually all other location types, the majority of armed robberies in a bank involve firearms.1 These weapons have the most lethal potential and, although infrequently discharged, engender the most fear in victims. Investigators have found that bank workers experience a range of short-term psychological and physical reactions to a hold-up (Jones & Jones 1988), and that a minority of victims can experience long-term negative effects (Leymann 1985). …