Bank robberies on the rise across U.S.

Bank robberies are up in cities across the USA this year and, although the reason is unclear, the down economy is a suspect.

"The economy is driving some of this," says Chris Swecker, chief security officer for Bank of America and former assistant director of the FBI's criminal division. "We're even getting some anecdotal stuff from bank robbers."

Swecker said Bank of America analysts study the interplay between the increase in bank heists and foreclosures, credit defaults and unemployment rates.

"We haven't drawn any conclusions yet, but we are certainly looking at it," he said.

The Los Angeles metro area has had 189 bank robberies this year, compared with 156 at the same point last year, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.

Elsewhere:

*In San Francisco, bank robberies jumped from 20 in the first five months of 2007 to 32 for the same period in 2008, said Sgt. Wilfred Williams, spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department.

*Bank robberies in the Houston metro area more than doubled in 2007 to 115, and the city is on pace to match -- or break -- that mark with 51 robberies already, said Detective Robert Schobey of the Houston FBI Joint Bank Robbery Task Force.

*Jackson, Miss., had its eighth bank robbery of the year last week. It had seven in all of 2007, according to Jackson Police Lt. Joe Wade.

FBI spokesman Stephen Kodak said bank robbery numbers fluctuate annually, but overall change usually is slight.

"I've seen trends go up and down," he said. "But I've never seen anything really double."

Some areas have bucked the trend. The 16 bank robberies in Washington, D.C., equal the number the city had last year at this time, Metro Police spokeswoman Kaylin Castelli said.

Bank robberies peaked in 2001 with more than 10,000 heists recorded around the nation, according to FBI figures. Robberies declined after that, rising slightly in 2004, before increasing nearly 10% in 2006. National figures for 2007 are not complete.

On average, bank robbers make off with about $10,000 in cash, checks and other property, according to FBI statistics.

Jackson Assistant Police Chief Lee Vance doesn't buy the economy argument. "If you are a criminal, you're a criminal," he said.

Milwaukee Detective Ralph Spano says his department has recorded 25 bank robberies compared with 12 by this time last year.

Spano said Milwaukee has suffered recession-like conditions, but he does not know how much that has to do with the increase in bank robberies.

"There really are just a lot more desperate people out there right now," he said.

Joyner reports for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. Contributing: Katharine Lackey.


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