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FBI Warns N.C. Banks to do More to Fight Robberies


April 29, 2002
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FBI Warns N.C. Banks to do More to Fight Robberies

Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - The FBI wants North Carolina bankers to do more to protect themselves against robberies, so the federal agents can concentrate on fighting terrorism and organized crime.

The state's banks had a record 381 robberies last year, the fifth-highest total in the United States. Authorities have not pinpointed a cause for the increase, but they believe drugs and unemployment may play a role.

FBI officials, frustrated over the amount of time they spend investigating robberies, want banks to upgrade their surveillance equipment, hire armed guards and use more bulletproof glass.

"We've had three years of high numbers and three years of discussions about this," said Chris Swecker, special agent in charge of the Charlotte FBI office.

"We spend more resources on bank robberies than New York, Chicago or Miami. We have a limited amount of resources and would like to put more focus on counterterrorism and organized crime."

The FBI said the first deterrent to robberies is a visible security force, and banks should have more armed guards posted outside.

Bank officials say they frequently re-evaluate security and strive to keep their buildings safe without making them look like fortresses.

Ed Aycock of the N.C. Bankers Association said banks consider cost, location and the potential effect on the customer-friendly atmosphere when planning security.

Charlotte led North Carolina last year with 71 robberies, followed by Greensboro with 35 and Winston-Salem with 26.

Nationwide, FBI statistics show there were about 7,500 robberies, burglaries and larcenies of banks, credit unions and armored-carrier companies in 2000. In the 6,904 cases where the criminals succeeded, they left with an average of $11,299 in cash, checks or other property.

The FBI wouldn't say how much is taken on average in bank heists in North Carolina. About 70 percent of the robbers get caught in North Carolina.

Larry Brown, senior vice president of First Citizens Bank, said he agrees with some of the FBI's concerns but disagrees with others.

Brown said armed guards would increase the likelihood of someone getting hurt in a confrontation.

Among other security measures, First Citizens recently began using digital technology to improve surveillance images. About 44 percent of the N.C. bank robbery photos from last year, according to an FBI analysis, were either poor or fair. Seven percent of the state's robberies last year yielded no photograph at all.

First Citizens also installed security vestibules in five of its North Carolina banks. The devices, also called man traps, are often accompanied by metal detectors and anyone carrying a weapon could be locked inside.

Bob Denham, spokesman for BB&T, said the company uses bulletproof barriers and hires security guards in some of its high-risk areas. The bank has also started using digital technology, he said.

Officials at the new Wachovia Corp. and Bank of America said they are continually reviewing security procedures and working with law enforcement. But each declined to discuss security in detail, citing company policies.

Most state banks participate in Bank Watch, a national program that includes improving surveillance cameras, running ads to publicize reward programs and increased training for employees.

FBI officials tout a system in Durham where microchips are placed in bait money packs at most of the city's banks. The ProNet Tracking System sends a radio signal to law enforcement.

The system may be one reason Durham has seen bank robberies decline from a state-leading 41 in 1998 to 16 last year, FBI officials said. Durham is the only North Carolina city to use the system.




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