Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Take the Money and ... Hit the Freeway

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Take the Money and ... Hit the Freeway

Article excerpt

IN desperation, some banks are posting warning signs that proclaim "Robbery Protected." Others give burglars "exploding money dye packs concealed in bills that are designed to blow up after thieves leave, staining them and the loot with incriminating ink.

Full-page advertisements display mugs of robbers in the hope that someone can identify them - a 10 Most-Wanted List in the morning paper.

Such are the tactics financial institutions are using to erase southern California's dubious distinction as the bank robbery capital of the world.

While bank robberies are up nationwide, nowhere are they more in evidence than in the seven-county Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Consider these Bonnie-and-Clyde statistics from the local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI):

*There have been 1,650 bank robberies in the region so far this year - an average of nine a day. That is the same as in all of 1990 and puts the area dejectedly on track to break the 1983 record of 1,830.

*One in five bank robberies in the United States last year occurred here - more than in New York (520), San Francisco (532), Phoenix (226), Denver (77), and Dallas (78) combined.

*In one six-day period in August, thieves hit more Los Angeles-area banks (67) than in Albany, N.Y., in all of 1990.

"There really isn't a second place," says Ed Pistey, director of security for First Interstate Bank and chairman of the security committee for the California Bankers Association (CBA).

The phenomenon says something about California as well as the nation. Bank robberies across the country have been rising for several years, though they jumped more than usual last year (17 percent). Some analysts say they believe the recession may have had a hand in that.

As for local factors, Los Angeles has among the highest concentration of banks in the country, a product of the region's sprawling suburban profile. A web of freeways gives robbers easy escape routes and plenty of traffic to blend in with.

Drugs - a motive behind so many robberies today - are the cause of a particularly large number here. …

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