Crimes against Bankers Cause Texas Group to Enlist the Help of a Self-Defense Expert

By Bennett, Andrea | American Banker, October 3, 1985 | Go to article overview

Crimes against Bankers Cause Texas Group to Enlist the Help of a Self-Defense Expert


Bennett, Andrea, American Banker


I SIT DANGERS to be a banker? A banking group in Texas thinks it is. Alarmed by a growing number of robberies, extortion attempts, and even kidnappings of financial service executives in the state, the Independent Bankers Asosciation of Texas has hired a self-defense expert to teach its members how to protect themselves.

"Most bankers have high visibility in their communities and tend to be potential targets," explained F. Hagen McMahon Jr., executive director of the group. He said that the high profile many bankers have -- combined with the public perception that bankers are affluent -- presents them with a "higher than average occupational hazard."

"If you pick up your newspaper, you read almost daily of a kidnapping of a bank officer or of a director being shot," Mr. McMahon said. He attributes the increase in the number of incidents against bankers as being the result of "financially distressed times."

To combat such hazards, the Texas bankers group hired Jerry Robinette, chairman of Interpro, a security firm based in Austin, Texas, and a former Air Force fighter pilot and diplomatic escort. During the past year, Mr. Robinette has led seminars for the group as a whole and also worked with individual banks in the state. For security reasons, he declines to disclose which banks he has worked with.

His program consists of academic and physical courses in both personal protection and making banks safer places to work.

Mr. McMahon said the program teaches bankers everything they need to know about safety "from A to Z." That means they learn such diverse things as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, how to evacuate a bank during a fire, and how to use firearms.

In making banks safer places to work, Mr. Robinette said, "We harden the environment, so that someone trying to penetrate it will feel extremely threatened."

He said that can be done through technical things such as how the bank is landscaped or lighted, and where the parking lot and automated teller machines are located. It can also be done through teaching employees the appropriate way to act in certain situations.

MR. ROBINETTE GIVES AS AN example a situation that occurred at one bank he worked with in which someone called and asked to speak to a bank officer. After being told the officer was out of town, the caller burglarized the officer's house, according to Mr. Robinette. That situation could have been avoided if the person answering the phone at the bank knew not to give out personal information, Mr. Robinette said.

Part of the system he builds for a bank may also include training a personal bodyguard for senior executives. He said some of the independent bankers in Texas have personal bodyguards, though they often go under the title of "executive assistant."

The people the trains, Mr. Robinette said, are experts on personal security and safety and also usually have another banking-related skill that they use when they are not needed for protection. "The banking people like that because they are bottom-line people."

For example, he said, someone on the banking staff may serve in the dual function of economist/bodyguard. "Within three miles of here [Austin], we have one of the best in the country," he said.

Mr. Robinette believes that in addition to making the work environment safer, bankers need to know how to defend themselves. He said part of his training program "gets very physical" and includes practice in target shooting and martial arts.

"I don't like to have it thought of as shooting or karate, because that can offend people," he said. "Really, we're looking at options. You may not ever need to know how to shoot, but suppose you did to save your life? Wouldn't that be a lousy last throught?"

He believes anyone, even those without any athletic skills, can learn basic self-defense. For example, he said, a 72-year-old woman in a group he taught learned the skills so well she succeeded in breaking his nose. …

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