January 10th, 2008 08:43 EST
From Desperation to Dedication: Robbery Prevention, Apprehension and Recovery
From Desperation to Dedication: Robbery Prevention, Apprehension and Recovery through the Eyes of a Former Bank/Credit Union Robber
For more than 15 years, I pursued a career as a self-employed Addict, Drug Dealer, Gambler and Thief. I risked my life and sacrificed my family to satisfy my need for money, attention and independence. Ultimately, my disregard of values and discipline resulted in a 13 year Federal Prison sentence. Following a six-month crime spree, which included five armed bank/credit union robberies in three states, my self-destructive lifestyle was brought to an end. I soon found myself within the razor wire and armed confines of the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colorado where my neighbors included such notorious criminals as Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.
Facing the obstacles, pressures and violence of prison life, I was determined that this time behind bars would not be wasted. I chose Education as my saving grace, despite the elimination of Federal Pell Grants for the incarcerated. Undeterred, I set out to secure funding on my own through scholarships, grants and foundation assistance. After six months of submitting applications, writing essays, begging, pleading and selling, I landed my first scholarship for one class. That was a beginning, and when I walked out the doors of prison, I carried with me two degrees, both obtained with a 4.0 GPA and placement on the Dean’s and President’s List.
Since my release, I have taken the Corporate, Association and Financial speaking platforms by storm. Audiences are stunned by my endurance, accomplishments and remarkable personal transformation. With straightforward, real life examples, I show how the keys to my success in prison are the keys to my success today, and how these lessons can be applied to escaping the “prisons within ourselves”. I renew an appreciation for what is really important in all of our lives and motivate each and every person to overcome adversity, adapt to change, and to realize their full potential.
For the past seven years I have provided financial institutions with real-life insight surrounding robbery prevention, apprehension and recovery. By giving you a look into the “mind of the enemy” I am confident that the suggestions below, if implemented, will dramatically decrease the chance of your financial institution being targeted for a robbery; increase the chances of a quick apprehension of the assailant(s), and; aid in a speedy and full recovery of monies taken.
As we all know, bank and credit union robbery has, at best, remained steady year in and year out and, at worst, has seen an increase in recent years. As it is my belief that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future, it is imperative that action is taken to reverse or, at the very least, minimize this trend.
I am not telling anyone reading this article something that they do not already know when I tell you that bank robbery is not as Hollywood portrays it. It is not John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde and it is certainly not a crime that is committed by individuals who are living a glamorous lifestyle. The people who are committing these crimes are strung out on drugs, they have a gambling debt to pay, their house is about to be foreclosed on, etc. And it is my belief that this trend is going to continue into the foreseeable future based on our country’s pre-occupation with drugs, the ease in which gambling can be accessed and our high unemployment rate- what I am telling you is that good old fashion robbery is very much here to stay and very much an act of desperation.
With this continuance being the case, how do you “robber proof” your institutions? It starts with the support of senior management. You need to create an environment that the would-be robber is going to want to pass. A robber will always, and I mean always, take the path of least resistance!
Having met and interviewed more than 300 convicted bank and credit union robbers, I found a couple of common threads. The first one being that every institution is cased to some extent. No potential robber comes into a town, approaches the very first financial institution they come across and makes a decision to rob that branch. Every institution is cased to some extent whether it is the individual who drives by several times in deciding where they are going to park their get-a-way vehicle; walks by several times trying to get a feel for the lay-out of the place; walks up to the teller and hands he/she a ten dollar bill asking for a roll of quarters when again they are, in reality, getting a feel for the layout; walks to the island and acts as though they are filling out a deposit slip only to walk back out as if they forgot something; someone a little more advanced who sits down with a loan officer under the guise of being interested in a loan or the individual who sits in a nearby restaurant timing patrol cars and response times. The bottom line is that every institution is cased to some extent and employees need to be aware of suspicious activities, anything that stands out of the ordinary.
The majority of people who come into your institutions are legitimate customers who you see every day, week or month. Those are not the people you need to worry about. You need to worry about the people who you have never seen before. Make it a policy that if any employee sees an individual they do not recognize enter your institution that they do not recognize (and if they are not in the middle of some type of transaction) approach that individual, extend a hand and say “Thank you for visiting our branch, what can we do for you today?” That and that alone can keep that potential robber from choosing your institution. The last thing they want is someone looking them in the eye and getting a good description. Your legitimate customer will love it as fantastic customer service and potential robbers will deem that as reason enough to go down the road to another place that offers an easier path of resistance.
The second common thread I found in interviewing these convicted robbers was male presence. Male presence and male presence alone can keep them from choosing your institution. The last thing they want is someone who may play “Joe Hero” and try to thwart what they are attempting. I walked into dozens of institutions with every intent of committing that robbery only to walk up to the teller, hand he/she a ten dollar bill and ask for a roll or quarters based on male presence. I understand that you may have trouble keeping male presence in your institution on a constant basis; but, if at no other time, you need to have a male presence there on Fridays from 9:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. Fifty percent of all robberies (and some years this figure goes above fifty percent, and I will touch on why I believe this is the case in a moment) occur between these morning hours on Friday. For you bank and credit union President’s who may be reading this article, that might mean your getting out of your cushy leather chairs for a couple of hours a week and making yourself visible in the lobby at a loan officers desk. It is imperative that there is some kind of male presence during this time frame.
I mentioned above that I have a theory on why these times continue to be ripe for robberies and it is two-pronged. The first reason is that there is a mistaken belief that there is more money in banks and credit unions on Fridays. Most of us know this is not true; but, because it is payday for many people and because many checks will be cashed, there is a mistaken belief that more money is available. The second reason is due to the fact that I would estimate “being strung out on drugs” is the driving force behind 60-70% of all robberies, and their thinking is that if they do not commit this crime on Friday the “cash cow” is going to close for two days and that means their habit cannot be fed over the weekend, which is not an option. So, it becomes a scenario where, throughout the week, they build up their nerve and finally realize this is the day, I have to do this today.
So you have done all that you can to prevent a robbery from taking place at your institution yet you are targeted…what should you do? I love the phrase “be aware but don’t stare.” As mentioned earlier, you have no idea what type of a person you are dealing with and you do not want to challenge or agitate the individual. What you want to do is look for distinguishing marks or characteristics that make that individual stand out: scars, tattoos, etc. When I was finally apprehended the FBI told me that my cases were filed away as unsolvable. They had photos and ran those in the local newspapers and on local TV stations but, because it was never in my own back yard, they were not getting any tips on who this individual might be. I could have been anyone of ten million people residing in this country being of slightly above average height but with nothing that made me remarkable. They also had fingerprints from the notes I had passed but, because I had never been in trouble with the law, they were getting no matches there either.
However, if the tellers involved in those robberies had noticed that I had one ear that sticks out a little further than the other, or that the fingernail digit of my middle finger on my right hand is crooked because it was cut off when I was young and, when re-attached, never did healed correctly-- perhaps if those things hade been noticed they could have been broadcast along with the photos and, maybe, the guy who checked me in at the hotel that evening could have recalled that someone the night before had an ear that stuck out a little more than the other or perhaps a store clerk would have recalled the guy who handed her a bill with a hand that had a crooked middle finger. The bottom line is that if you take notice of even the slightest distinguishing marks or characteristics and if these can be relayed to law enforcement, the chances for a quick apprehension is enhanced greatly.
Immediately following a robbery, obviously, the first thing you want to do is lock the door. You want to eliminate the possibility of a hostage situation should law enforcement arrive and the individual attempts to re-enter the institution. Then, of course, best -case scenario is someone observing the route and means of escape and again, best-scenario, having that information relayed to someone who has law enforcement on the phone. But, just as important as these things, every single individual who was involved in that robbery, whether it is a single teller or the entire institution, needs to immediately sit down and write out every single detail, description and impression surrounding that robbery. Not 10, 20 or 30 minutes later but immediately. It is amazing how much can be forgotten over a short period of time.
After my apprehension, and while going through trial, the most damaging testimony came from a single teller who had on her own (she had not been trained or instructed to do this) taken it upon herself to, immediately following the robbery, write out every description and detail that she could recall: my hat and what kind it was; the sunglasses and what brand they were; the shirt and what was written on it; my pants and what brand they were; and, finally, my shoes-- brand, color, etc. When she took the stand and started describing these things in detail (and as I was later apprehended with these items) my attorney leaned over to me and said, “You better take the plea they are offering, you will never overcome this testimony.” Make it policy at your institution that everyone involved in a robbery immediately writes down all impressions and descriptions as they recall them.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
The front-line people are your most important and powerful deterrent to a potential robber who may be considering your institution. They and they alone can keep you from being targeted. Take a page out of the Wal-Mart book. Make it a policy to meet and great as many people as possible who come through your doors. As stated earlier, your legitimate customers will love it and a potential robber will view it as an act that sent them down the road to an institution that offers a path of easier resistance.
Some of the things I have mentioned above may be common sense, some you may already implement at your institution and some you may have needed to be reminded of once again as complacency can be your greatest enemy. But if you do not implement anything else that I have mentioned in this article, I would encourage you to implement the following two things immediately.
The first is a suspicious activities log. Every workstation should have a piece of paper, a journal or a notebook. I do not care what it is, but something needs to be within reach where a quick note can be jotted down if that individual sees something out of the ordinary or someone they do not recognize, no matter how trivial it may seem at the time. And I would encourage management to review these notes, if not on a daily basis, at least weekly. If a pattern is detected or if people are seeing the same things, there is a good chance your institution is being cased for a robbery and appropriate measures need to be taken.
The second thing that I would encourage your institution to implement immediately is to have everyone at your branch sign a “non-disclosure” form.
One of the reasons I was as successful as I was for as long as I was, in great part, was due to the fact that I had, at one time, dated a teller. I knew about bait money, dye packs, second drawers, tracking devices, when money was counted, etc. Little did she know, at the time, that she was providing me with valuable information that I would later utilize to be a successful bank and credit union robber. Have all of your employees sign a “non-disclosure” form indicating that they will share with no one (family included) the policies of your institution surrounding security, procedures, training, etc. The potential robbers out there have enough information, don’t provide them with anything more they can use against you.
Troy Evans is a Professional Speaker and Author who resides in Phoenix, AZ. He can be reached at: The Evans Group, 3104 E. Camelback Road, #436 Phoenix, AZ 85016, 602-265-6855, firstname.lastname@example.org and his website is www.troyevans.com