Worries as FBI Confirms Robbery Not a Top Priority
Jackson, Ben, American Banker
When the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that it was directing more resources to thwarting terrorism, it confirmed that bank robbery was one crime that would receive less attention.
Meanwhile, bank robberies are on the rise. According to preliminary FBI data, 8,259 bank robberies were committed last year, a 9.4% increase from 2000. And even though the FBI has cut back on investigating robberies before, bankers and law enforcement officials worry the bureau's latest move, announced Wednesday, could make it more difficult to apprehend criminals wanted for more than one robbery.
Arvin E. Clar, a Cleveland detective and a security consultant for Charter One Bank, said most bank robbers are wanted in more than one state, and the FBI coordinates investigations across state lines.
"What we're afraid of is organized threats against the bank," Mr. Clar said.
Currently, the FBI responds to most robberies, though it stopped investigating unarmed robberies in the largest cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, a decade ago because of a lack of resources. In those cities, local authorities handle investigations and report the information to the FBI.
Under the plan unveiled last week, federal agents will respond to armed robberies, those that appear to be committed by a repeat offender, or those that have interstate connections.
Ken Neu, the bureau's acting section chief of violent crimes, said it will also continue to investigate robberies where local police departments feel they need the bureau's expertise or manpower. "We have to make sure we focus federal resources on places where local law enforcement doesn't have them."
Crimes in which a lone, unarmed robber hands a note to a teller will be left to local law enforcement to solve, but the FBI will continue to gather and analyze data on all robberies, Mr. Neu said.
Jerry E. Wiesmueller, the vice president for security at Marshall & Ilsley Corp. and a former Milwaukee detective, said he is confident that local law enforcement authorities can handle run-of-the-mill robberies.
"The same effective police procedures work as well with a bank as a mom-and-pop grocery store," he said.
Nonetheless, he and other law enforcement officials expressed concern that this might be first step in the FBI abandoning bank robbery investigations altogether.
"Potentially, if they were to pull out lock, stock, and barrel, it would be a problem," Mr. Wiesmueller said.
Mr. Neu denied that the bureau would pull out of robbery investigations completely and said that it plans to hold a conference with bankers, local law enforcement officials, and armored car companies at a Bank of America Corp. facility in Charlotte, N.C., this summer.
Though the conference is still in the planning stages, its goal is to give bankers advice on how to handle robberies and to get information from the industry to aid in future investigations, he said. …