Fort Lauderdale banks, businesses impose headwear ban

Businesses hope new policy will act as a robbery deterrent


It's an all-too-common image from bank surveillance footage: a robber wearing a hat, sunglasses or both, walks up to a teller, passes a note, and walks away with cash.

Detectives says the accessories can serve as effective disguises and deterrents to catching the bad guys.

Now, some banks and other businesses are fighting back by posting signs telling customers to remove hats and sunglasses. The real message: Let's see your face so if you rob us, police can track you down.

"It's sort of a no-nonsense, simple solution to an ever-increasing problem that Florida is facing," said Renee Thompson, spokeswoman for The Florida Bankers' Association, which launched a "no hats, no hoods, no sunglasses" robbery deterrent program in January. "We're optimistic that customers will understand the importance of the program."

Customers who refuse to comply will not be denied service, the association said. They'll simply be served in an area of the bank with more security or by an experienced teller.

The "no hats" effort is the result of a surge in Florida robberies last year that industry and law enforcement officials hope to stave off. In 2007, Florida had 361 bank robberies that cost banks more than $2.4 million, according to the Florida Bankers Association. That was an increase of almost 40 percent from 2006.

In many heists, robbers wear facial disguises, masks or head coverings, which make it tough to get useful video surveillance images.

So far, 46 of the state's 300 or so banks, with an estimated 5,470 branches, participate in the Florida Bankers Association's "no hats" effort, and the association provides them with the signs. Many others have their own versions of the "no hats" program.

The Broward Sheriff's Office has been handing out its own stickers for several years, through free robbery prevention presentations.

Numerous financial institutions and businesses, including MetroPCS and JM Enterprises, have participated in the robbery prevention seminars, said Lisa Ehrhart, the Sheriff's robbery prevention specialist. Among those that have posted the stickers are 1st United Bank and County City Credit Union.

"It's just like if a business has a sign that says, 'must wear a shirt and shoes,' " Ehrhart said. "If you're a legitimate customer, you won't have a problem removing your sunglasses and hat."

A variation of "no hats" has been under way in Aventura for years, the city's crime prevention officer Ernie Long said. Since many robbers case their target before robbing it, they might not hit a branch with a "no hat" policy.

"Bad guys like privacy. They don't want to stand out," Long said.

Though there is no data in Florida yet to show the program's effectiveness, the stickers helped catch at least one bank robber last year.

In February 2007, Fort Lauderdale police said, Fredrick Holyfield targeted the 1st United Bank at 300 W. Broward Blvd. and made off with $1,000. Detectives found a hat and do-rag in nearby bushes, and video surveillance clearly showed his face. He later confessed.

"He indicated that he took his hat and do-rag off before entering the bank because there was a sign that prohibits hats and sunglasses," a detective wrote in the report.

Holyfield, 40, pleaded no contest to robbery without a weapon and was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.