Bank Robbery: A Target for Community Policing

By Lissenden, Philip W. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, September 1996 | Go to article overview

Bank Robbery: A Target for Community Policing


Lissenden, Philip W., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


As its name implies, community policing involves citizens and the police working together to help resolve community crime problems. During the past decade, the community policing approach has helped law enforcement agencies throughout the United States reestablish bonds with the communities they serve.

However, many police departments that have embraced community policing may have unintentionally excluded investigative units from participating in this program. Perhaps this stems from a perception among investigators that community policing offers them no benefits. But such thinking may serve only to deprive investigative units from experiencing the rewards of community policing.

In Suffolk County, New York, investigators developed and implemented an innovative community policing program that provides the employees of financial institutions with formal crime awareness training. The approach has proven so successful and popular that variations of the original program have been developed to assist other potential crime victims.

Historical Perspective

From 1984 through 1989, detectives from the Suffolk County Police Department's Robbery Section noticed several recurring problems while investigating bank robberies. They learned that in the wake of a robbery, bank employees often:

* Failed to notify police promptly and accurately

* Failed to safeguard the crime scene prior to the arrival of police personnel

* Had not activated surveillance cameras

* Were unable to provide detailed, accurate descriptions of suspects

* Exhibited a reluctance to assist in the robbery investigation

* Experienced great anxiety regarding their required participation in court proceedings.

Collectively, these problems represented a serious impediment to the successful investigation of bank robberies.

Detectives also noted a steady increase in the number of bank robberies occurring throughout the country and the region. In the New York metropolitan area, an alarming number of these robberies resulted in customers or bank employees sustaining physical injury.

The Suffolk County Police Department decided to develop and implement a plan that would reduce the possibility of injuries occurring during the commission of bank robberies. The plan also would address the reactions of bank employees that impeded investigations. After analyzing the various investigative difficulties and safety problems relating to bank robberies, detectives from the Robbery Section concluded that formal training conducted by police personnel and directed toward bank employees at all levels, from tellers to managers, would help alleviate these problems.

Program Design and Implementation

Throughout 1989, detectives contacted hundreds of financial institutions and law enforcement agencies throughout the United States to determine what, if any, training they provided for bank employees. The detectives found that while many law enforcement agencies and financial institutions conducted some type of formal training, none conducted a comprehensive program addressing customer and employee safety, as well as investigative problems. These surveys also revealed that in addition to safety issues, the prime concerns of bank executives focused on adherence to strict policies developed by the various financial institutions.

Late in 1989, the detectives began to develop a training program that would address the bank executives' concerns and the factors that inhibited robbery investigations. Suffolk County detectives solicited input from financial institutions in the area regarding their safety and policy needs. The detectives then outlined a one-day seminar to address these issues. Representatives from the police department and several financial institutions discussed and modified the outline at a number of meetings.

Meanwhile, the police department attempted to locate training aids to accent various portions of the emerging program. …

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