Dealers don’t take credit cards

Bank robbery remains a popular crime in America and, according FBI officials, there’s no way to stop it

Last year’s total of 7,199 bank robberies is slightly behind the national average of 7,404 for the preceding 20 years, according to FBI statistics. Michigan is a hotbed for the crime with 457 robberies in 2004, second behind only California’s 1,004.

"If people want to rob a bank, they’re going to rob a bank," says Special Agent Dawn Clenney of the Detroit FBI office. "You can’t prevent people from doing it. I think the best thing you can do is make an example of people who commit those kinds of crimes."

Drug abuse is the primary reason for bank robberies, Clenney says. As famed robber Willie Sutton observed, banks are where the money is.

"They don’t take credit cards in the drug world," Clenney says. "You pay now and you pay with cash."

FBI Special Agent Terry Booth is the bank robbery coordinator for the Detroit office. He estimates that 75 percent of bank robbers he comes across have drug problems. He says that up to 10 percent of the others have a gambling addiction, a problem he says has been exacerbated by the opening of casinos in Detroit. Booth says the key is quick apprehension.

"What we can do is hopefully arrest these individuals right away before they rob additional banks," he says. "Typically bank robbers don’t rob just one bank. They continue to rob banks until they get caught. That’s mainly because of the drugs."

In his 17 years as bank robbery coordinator, he says that he has seen cases where amateur robbers virtually catch themselves.

"They do some really dumb things, like leave their wallets," Booth says. "I have seen them write their bank note on the back of their parole papers, or write the demand note on their payroll stub."

Booth says that apprehension rates vary between 50 and 75 percent. He says that getting surveillance photos to television stations and newspapers is critical.

"The media is so important. We catch bank robbers because people see their photos on TV."

And, Booth says, there is one single top source for turning in robbers. "Old girlfriends are our best tipsters."

The J. Geils Band got it right. Love stinks.

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