Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information above provides only a generalized description of bank robbery. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Stakeholders

In addition to criminal justice agencies, including the FBI, the following groups have an interest in the bank robbery problem and should be considered for the contribution they might make to gathering information about the problem and responding to it:

  • banks, especially risk management personnel and local branch managers;
  • state and federal banking regulatory agencies;
  • state and national banking associations; and
  • banking security companies or consultants.

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of bank robbery, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

You may have a variety of hunches about which factors contribute to your bank robbery problem—for example, branch locations, parking lot and building layout, or management practices. You should test these hunches against available data before developing a response. Because bank robberies are rare, it is important to examine the differences between robbed and unrobbed branches. While police often know much about branches that get robbed, it is important to compare this information with data concerning unrobbed branches, as most bank branches are very similar.

Your analysis will be improved if you examine several years worth of data. Examining multijurisdictional data can also be useful. This is especially important if your jurisdiction has few robberies each year.

Incidents

  • How many bank robberies have there been? Is the number of bank robberies increasing? How does the number of bank robberies compare to the number of other commercial robberies? In jurisdictions with more robberies it may make sense to examine monthly or quarterly figures. In jurisdiction with fewer robberies, consider combining your data with that of neighboring jurisdictions.
  • How successful are bank robberies?
    • How many robberies are attempted? How many are completed? These figures can be used to calculate the bank robbery failure rate.
    • How much money is taken? Be sure to calculate both the average amount and the range from high to low, paying particular attention to robberies with zero losses.
    • How much money is recovered? Be sure to include the total, average, and range from high to low.
  • How many robberies are cleared?
    • How many result in arrests on or near the scene of the robbery?
    • How many are cleared the same day?
    • How much time elapses between offense and clearance? You can standardize these figures by grouping clearances within one day, two days, one week, one month, and so forth.
    • How many robberies are cleared through a direct arrest? How many are cleared as exceptional according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting rules?

Potential Bank Victims

Every bank robbery has two victims: the branch that was robbed  and the bank or corporation that owns the robbed branch. That is, Wells Fargo is a banking corporation that operates many branches. When a Well Fargo branch is robbed, both the branch and the parent corporation are victimized. The risk of victimization will vary both by branch and by bank. Determining how victimization is distributed among banks and branches will help you identify the factors that increase the risk of robbery.

  • How many bank corporations are in your jurisdiction? What types are they? Credit unions? Savings and loans? Retail or commercial banks? Remember that ownership can change over time as a result of merger or acquisition.
  • How many branches are operated by banks in your jurisdiction? You can use both addresses and bank names as unique identifiers, but remember to note any changes in branch ownership.
  • For each branch, determine:
    • What type of branch is it? In-store? Traditional? Main office?
    • What are the days and times of operations? Are there extended hours?
    • How many teller windows are there? How many employees? Does this vary by time or day? Does the branch have hours when staffing is low?
    • How busy is the bank? How many customer transactions are there per day? Does the volume of business vary during the day or week? Does the branch have vulnerable periods, such as during money transfers? Does the bank have cash-rich periods, such as specific paydays?
    • Does the branch focus on specific types of customers, such as seniors or students? Does it offer particular types of services, such as check cashing?
  • What are the security practices of the branches?
    • What types of physical security are used? Man-traps? Bandit barriers? Metal detectors?
    • What types of access control are used? Weapon detection systems? Key cards?
    • What type of electronic surveillance is used? What is the reliability and quality of the imaging?
    • What cash management practices are used? Cash limits? Cash dispensing machines? Timed safes?
    • What is the bank’s policy on activating alarms?
    • What other security practices are employed? Armed or unarmed guards? Greeters? Mandatory removal of hats and scarves?

Bank Victims

  • How many banks have been robbed? How many branches of each have been robbed? Be sure to differentiate between banks and branch locations. What types of banks are they? Credit unions? Savings and loans? Retail banks?
  • How many robberies are there by branch type?
    • How many times has each branch been robbed? Are there branches that have never been robbed?
    • Are certain branches victimized repeatedly? Record the time  between robberies at the same branch. This is generally reported as the number of days or weeks between robberies.
    • What is the sequence of successful robberies? Are successful robberies more likely to recur? Are high loss robberies more likely to recur? Do successive robberies involve fewer offenders?
  • Where do robberies occur?
    • What are the traffic patterns of the streets where the robbed branches are located? Are they located on busy streets? Close to major highways? On major thoroughfares? In business districts? In shopping centers?
    • Are the land parcels of robbed branches easily accessible by foot? Are they easily accessible by motor vehicle?
    • How is the visibility at robbed branches? Are entrances clearly visible from nearby roadways or businesses? Are branch interiors visible from the outside? Are branch interiors visible from drive-through windows?
  • When are branches robbed?
    • Are branches robbed at particular times of day? Opening time? Lunchtime? Near  closing?
    • Are branches more likely to be victimized on certain days or during specific weeks or months?
    • Are there seasonal variations? Do more robberies occur during winter months when it gets dark earlier?
    • How many customers are present during robberies? Are the lobbies empty or filled with customers?
  • What areas of the branch are robbed? Single or multiple teller windows? Vaults?

Individual Victims

Although it may be tempting to focus only on the corporate victims, individuals can also be victimized during a bank robbery: bank employees—especially tellers—and customers may be threatened, injured, taken hostage, or even killed.

  • What type of employee was confronted by the robber? Teller? Guard? 
  • Where was the employee physically located? Near a door? At her work station?
  • What were the employee’s physical characteristics? Age? Gender? Physique? How long had the staff member been employed? Had she received training regarding bank robbery?
  • How did employees respond to the robbery? Were bank policies followed? Were alarms activated? Were dye packs or bait money used?
  • Was anyone injured in the robbery? What type of injuries were suffered? (Many employees may feel debilitating fear following a robbery; robbery training can address this reaction.)
  • What were the characteristics of customers involved in the robbery? Physical location? Age? Physique? Gender?

Offenders

  • Many bank robberies can be sorted into the work of professionals or amateurs (consistent with Figure 3) based upon the answers to the following questions.
    • How many offenders were there? Multiple offenders? A lone robber?
    • Was a weapon used? Did the offender present a simple note demand?
    • Did violence occur? Were hostages taken?
    • Were disguises used?
    • Did the robbers attempt to disable cameras or other surveillance equipment?
    • Did the robbers give detailed instructions to the employees, such as demanding money without dye packs or instructing them not to set off the alarm?
  • How did the robbers escape? On foot? By bicycle? In cars? Do these characteristics vary by branch?
  • What are the demographic characteristics of the robbers? Age? Gender? Race and ethnicity? Is there gang involvement? Are drugs or alcohol involved?
  • How committed are robbers? How far do they travel to rob branches? Do they have criminal histories that including bank robbery? Have they committed prior bank robberies?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. In many cases, measures should be developed to detect displacement of robberies into surrounding areas or onto other branches. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)

You should use measures that specifically relate to the response implemented; for example, police might give target-hardening advice to bank robbery victims following a robbery. . If branch managers fail to change their cash management practices, other security measures may have little impact. In addition, you must determine how many banks and branches are in your area before measuring response effectiveness. You can obtain such information from your state’s banking regulator, the state or local banking association, or other sources. Finally, because bank robbery is a relatively rare crime, you should compare robbery trends in your jurisdiction with those of other jurisdictions, especially those that are similar to your own.

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to bank robbery.

  • Reduction in the number of bank robberies.
    • Reduction in the number of robbed banks or branches relative to all banks and branches.
    • Reduction in the number of repeat robberies.
    • Reduction in bank robberies as a percentage of commercial robberies.
  • Reduction of violence in bank robberies.
    • Reduction in the percentage of bank robberies where weapons are used.
    • Reduction in the percentage of robberies with injuries, violence, threats, or hostage taking.
  • Reduction in the success of bank robberies.
    • Reduction in the percentage of completed bank robberies.
    • Reduction in the financial loss from robberies. (This can be computed as both a total and an average, including and excluding failed robberies. Be sure to include the range of money taken, from high to low, as a single high-dollar robbery will otherwise distort the results).
    • Increase in the amount of money recovered.
    • Increase in the proportion of robberies where the money is recovered.
  • Increase in the proportion of robberies cleared by arrest.[aa] (Note that this measure does not directly reflect changes in the number of robberies, but may be an indirect measure of the effectiveness of the response. Even a single arrest can reduce the number of incidents).
    • Reduction in the number of bank robberies related to each arrest.
    • Reduction in clearance time.