Technology A Mixed Bag with Bank Security

As banks add digital surveillance, biometrics, would-be robbers also finding technologies

"We got robbed by Santa Claus on a motorcycle one time," 10 years ago in Chattanooga, said Mr. Sanford of First Tennessee. "One time, they tried to rob us through the drive-in, and the teller just ducked down and hit the floor. Sometimes they aren't the most brilliant people out there."

According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, there were 6,266 bank robberies in 2005, at an average value of $4,169.

"Generally, we see a spike in bank robberies regionally," Mr. Hall said. "It happens if there's increased drug activity in an area ... or if there's been significant lay-offs or the economy is particularly bad."

For all the high-tech advances, low-tech security is sometimes the most effective, security officers said.

The friendly greeters often found in bank branches have as much to do with security as customer service, said Detective Scroggins.

"That's probably the single greatest deterrent to a bank robbery that you're going to have," he said. "It just gives you the feeling that everybody in this bank is watching me. If you feel that way you're going to go someplace else. You're going to pick a softer target."

Bank officials emphasized that resources spent on bank robbery prevention can't compare to the drain from white-collar crimes such as identity theft, forgery and check fraud.

"That's where the technology is really hurting us -- on the white-collar crowd," said Mr. Sanford of First Tennessee.

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