02 February 2010

Bank Robberies

Denver FBI statistics show the highest number of bank robberies in the last five years occurred in 2006, with 221 banks hit in both Colorado and Wyoming.

But in 2007 and 2008, the numbers dropped to 125 and 150 robberies.

At the end of 2009, there were 208 banks robbed in the two states.

During 2009's bank robberies, two bank employees were injured, two suspects were killed and one hostage was taken[.]

From here (Hat Tip: 5280.)

Based on national statistics, the money stolen in all of last year's bank robberies combined was probably on the order of one million dollars. An average bank robbery nets the robbers less than $5,000. By comparison, money losses suffered by banks from fraud were on the order of one hundred times larger. Bank losses from bad debts, in turn, far exceed losses from bank robberies and fraud combined.

The reason, which bankers understand, but bank robbers do not, is that banks don't typically have all that much cash on hand ready to be seized at any given point in time. Most of the wealth of a bank is in the money owed to from others (e.g. mortgages outstanding), not in currency. Cash transactions are a minor sideline of commercial banking.

The rise of the ATM machine, direct deposits, wire transfers and a widespread practice of making payments via checks and credit cards, had made the United States a society that uses currency for a smaller share of its transactions than almost any other in the world and has kept many of those transactions out of banks.

The human toll from bank robberies was also remarkably low. We don't worry much about suspects who are killed in bank robberies. Two employee injuries and one hostage taken (presumably freed alive given the context) are obviously bad, but that is out of more than two hundred bank robberies in two states over an entire year. In at least 98.5% of bank robberies in 2009, no one not committing the crime was injured and no hostages were taken. Colorado and Wyoming were lucky in this regard, but not that atypical:

[V]iolence and injury occurred in only 2.34 percent of bank robberies between 1996 and 2000. The incidence of murder, kidnaping and/or hostage taking occurred in less than 1 percent of the crimes examined.

From 1990 to 2007, the number of bank robberies in the U.S. has fluctuated between a high of 11,876 in 1993 to a low of 8,193 in 1999. In 2007, there were 9,252 such robberies. Thus, in a given year, there are fewer than 278 bank robbery incidents that involve violence or injury, and fewer than 119 that involve murder, kidnapping or hostage taking in the entire nation.

About 60% of bank robberies produce arrests, certainly not a case where punishment is certain, but arrest rates for almost all other property crimes are much lower. Long prison sentences (often twenty years or more) are the norm for those who are caught.

One wonders if some of the funds spent on the last few years of long prison terms for frequently "amateur" criminals who steal small amounts of money during bank robberies involving no violence, would be better spent on public service advertising campaigns to explain to prospective bank robbers the idiocy of their criminal plans.

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