- The Washington Times - Monday, December 9, 2002

An increase in the number of bank robberies in this region follows a national trend that began last year.
According to FBI data, the Washington metropolitan area which comprises jurisdictions inside the Capital Beltway had 90 bank robberies in fiscal 2002, up from 64 in fiscal 2001 and 54 in fiscal 2000. Prince George's County alone has had 31 bank robberies this year, compared with 21 last year.
Sixteen bank robberies have occurred this year in Howard County, Md., where only two occurred in 2000 and 10 last year.
In the Richmond-Petersburg area, bank robbers have struck 70 times this year, breaking the county's record of 67 robberies last year.
Nationwide statistics for this year will not be available until next year. But in the past fiscal year 8,228 bank robberies occurred across the country, compared with 7,051 in fiscal 2000. The record for U.S. bank robberies was set in 1991, when 9,388 occurred.
Law enforcement and security experts disagree over the role the economy plays in the increase in robberies.
"You can't put your finger on why [there are more robberies]," said Barry Maddox, spokesman for the FBI's Baltimore field office. "You can't really attach it to the economy because there's been some really good times when they're still high."
Mr. Maddox said cyclical fluxes in the number of robberies could be attributed to the imprisonment and release of bank robbers. "There are a few people out there who are responsible for more than just one [robbery]," he said.
But Harvey Burstein, the David B. Schulman professor of security at Northeastern University, said, "Historically, when the economy is bad, there seems to be an increase in bank robberies, single robberies."
Mr. Burstein said potential robbers could feel emboldened because the FBI seems more concerned with anti-terrorism efforts.
Lawrence Barry, chief division counsel of the FBI's Richmond field office, said the agency headquarters largely attributes the rising number of robberies to bank branches popping up in strip malls, parking lots and grocery stores all over the nation.
"If they're accessible to the customers, they're accessible to the robbers," he said, adding that the banks themselves need to be the first and toughest line of defense against robbers.
Anne Arundel County, Md., where dozens of bank branches have been built in the past decade, had 32 robberies through October, 36 last year and 17 in 2000.
Baltimore County had 83 bank robberies through October, 96 last year and 33 in 2000. Baltimore city had 59 through October, 64 last year and 41 in 2000.
Conversely, Montgomery County has had 16 bank robberies this year, compared with 33 last year.
Mr. Burstein said that while he has no data about which areas have the most bank holdups he would expect that they have large numbers of laid-off workers.
He said the FBI's anti-terror efforts may be stretching the bureau's resources too thin and giving criminals the idea that they can rob banks without fear of being caught. "With all the emphasis emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue about terrorism loads of agents who might have been working other assignments may have been reassigned," Mr. Burstein said.
Mr. Maddox said the FBI hasn't cut the number of agents who monitor bank activity and has continued to offer bank tellers classes on how to handle robbers.

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