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Thieves Use Pens, Not Guns, as Bank Robbery Soars in NYC

Bank robberies in New York City soared by 64 percent last year over 2002, driven by an increase in unarmed robberies, the police said yesterday.

There were 408 bank robberies in 2003, an average of more than one a day, the police said. The vast majority of those - 342 - were carried out without the use of a weapon, the police said.

The police gave few details on the reasons for the increase. Michael O'Looney, the Police Department spokesman, said the banking industry had not taken enough steps to combat the robberies, including installing closed-circuit television systems and bullet-resistant barriers to protect bank employees. Unarmed bank robberies are often carried out by robbers passing demands for cash to tellers on pieces of paper.

Typical of the pattern, on Dec. 16, a man passed a note demanding cash to a teller at a branch of the Valley National Bank in Midtown Manhattan. The man fled without getting any money.

"Over all, the banking industry has not done enough to address the problem," Mr. O'Looney said. "We plan to put an even greater focus on which banks are cooperating with our best practices and those that are not. We expect better results in 2004."

The increase in bank robberies this year contrasts with the city's dropping crime rate. Robberies of all types were down last year by 4.5 percent compared with 2002 and by 69 percent compared with 1993. The murder rate, now hovering below 600 per year, is less than half the rate in the early 1990's.

National figures, available only for 2002, showed that the rate of serious crime remained unchanged in that year from 2001, according to a report issued by the F.B.I. in October. The national robbery rate for that year dropped by 1.8 percent from 2001.

An analysis of bank robberies in 2001 showed a national increase of 18 percent from 2000, the report found.

In New York City, the police have stepped up efforts to combat the problem. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has sponsored a City Council bill to require banks to set up barriers of bullet-proof glass to protect tellers. Some banks have resisted, saying they do little to thwart robbers.

Nationwide, the average amount of money taken in a bank robbery is less than $5,000, according to the F.B.I. report.

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