Banks Try to Increase Access, Security

Challenges of putting a bank on every street corner and in retail locations make security difficult

"There's a buzz. Employees are paying more attention to those people that come in with hats and hoods," West Suburban Vice President Craig Kelbus said.

Federal authorities are still analyzing data for 2005, but preliminary figures show that there were 6,800 bank robberies in the U.S. That's fewer than in 2004, when there were 7,556 robberies, or 2003, when 7,465 bank robberies were reported in the U.S.

"The funny thing is there is no rhyme or reason" to the fluctuating numbers, FBI spokesman Steve Kodak said. "If you would go back and look at the numbers for the last 20 years, you'd see it goes up and it goes down. There's no specific trend."

One of the biggest decreases was in the Los Angeles area, the "bank robbery capital of the world."

There were 455 robberies recorded there in 2005, the fewest in decades, said Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Los Angeles office. The Los Angeles area typically records between 500 and 700 bank robberies a year, she added.

In 1992, there were more than 2,600 robberies in Los Angeles. "Since then, we have declined steadily," Eimiller said.

She attributed the decrease to tougher sentencing laws, increased collaboration between federal and local police departments and new security devices.

The Miami area also saw a significant drop last year, but FBI Miami spokeswoman Judy Orihuela said that is partly due to changes in how robberies are reported.

The FBI's Miami office recorded only 94 bank robberies in 2005, down from 248 in 2004 and 178 in 2003.

"There could be others that the locals didn't report to us," Orihuela said.

Banking officials say most bank robbers usually net a few thousand dollars, at the most. The real harm comes in the form of reputational damage.

"It's not about the money," Hall said. "A bank's number one concern is the safety of its staff and customers."

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