Friday, February 08, 2002

Armed robbery

Bankers skimping on security

        Robbing banks has become something of a cottage industry in Cincinnati.

        Eight bank heists already this year.

        Fifty-eight stickups last year — 142 percent more than 2000.

        The bank-job business can be shut down. But police need more help from everyone working at the banks.

        Tellers and branch managers need to pay closer attention to details. Well-heeled bankers working in their downtown towers with no fear of a holdup man sticking a gun in their snoots need to give their employees the means to make their places of business safer for workers and customers.

        “The banks could help us quite a bit,” said Cincinnati police Capt. Vince Demasi, “if they'd utilize some of their tools.”

        As commander of the police unit investigating the robberies, he's not asking banks to spend millions on new tools. Just keep the old ones sharp.

Next, please

        Capt. Demasi wants more tellers to give crooks bundles of cash laced with exploding dye packs. But only if “guns are not seen or implied” and the robber remains calm as he hands over a note asking for money.

        “Don't take any unnecessary chances,” he added. “Your life is more important than the money.”

        He wants bank employees to be more observant. Call police when they see someone suspicious.

        “A lot of these folks don't just show up and rob a bank,” he said. “They've been there two or three times before to map the place out.”

        Tellers at robbery scenes have told him: “I had a real strange suspicion about that guy. He was in here yesterday.”

        The captain's advice: “If you have a weird feeling, call us when the person is still in the bank.”

        He also wants banks to take better care of their security cameras, the VCRs taping what the cameras see and the videotapes.

        “Set up a maintenance schedule,” he said, “and make sure it gets done.”

        Many banks don't. They use VCRs “like the ones you can buy off the shelf” and re-use inexpensive videotapes over and over.

        Tapes wear out. Capt. Demasi recommends popping in a new cassette “once a week, once a month tops.”

        That will remove one advantage some robbers have had.

        During this wave of robberies, his investigators have encountered 10 to 15 banks where “the tapes either weren't working properly or we couldn't get a valid photograph.”

Customer service

        A clear photo of a robber might lead to his arrest. Might keep another bank from being robbed. Might prevent someone from being hurt.

        Might save a life. Or even our way of life.

        “Bank robbers,” said Capt. Demasi, “are urban terrorists.

        “They're out to destory our freedoms, make us feel afraid, stop us from doing simple things like going to a bank.

        “If we don't become good citizens, willing to protect not only ourselves but other people, this thing will continue.”

        He's not asking for much.

        Especially with the videotapes. Changing a tape once a week should be as automatic as unlocking the bank's doors every morning.

        The tapes are cheap. Drugstores often have them on sale for 99 cents. Life has no such price.


        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; by fax at 768-8340; or e-mail at


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