Bank robberies in New York City have tripled in three years. Most of them are unarmed. USA Today reports that in October, as Police Commissioner Ray Kelly testified before the City Council about the need for better bank security, his pager flashed the news that a bank robbery was underway on 144th Street. In April, Kelly was meeting with bank officials about security when he learned that the bank across the street from City Hall had just been robbed. Police say that lax security and new customer-friendly banks without bulletproof plexiglass encourage robbers.
Last year, banks were robbed 408 times, or almost once for every three of the 1,290 branches in the city. That’s far fewer than in the late 1980s, when there were more than 1,000 bank jobs a year.
Police say Commerce Bank, a New Jersey-based bank that recently opened branches in New York City, has the highest ratio of robberies to branches in the city. Other banks with high ratios last year were North Fork Bank, Fleet Bank, Banco Popular, Chase and Washington Mutual.
Lawrence Sherman of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, a consultant to Commerce Bank, says it is unclear whether bulletproof barriers reduce robberies. He says Commerce Bank will not install them because “their whole business model is to be friendly and responsive to customers.” Sherman says Commerce branches have more transactions than other banks because they are open longer hours and on weekends. The more transactions, the greater the risk of a robbery, he says. “That does not necessarily mean any greater risk for the customer.”
Police are tired of bank robbers, sometimes armed only with pencils, tarnishing the city’s otherwise rosy crime statistics. “We don’t want to be the bank robbery capital of the world,” Kelly says.