Philadelphia Bank Robberies Hit All-Time High

187 robberies committed in Philadelphia in 2004, 80 more than previous year; rise is part of national trend in top metro areas

McGinnis said despite the unusually large number of robberies, the heists began to decline after police, the FBI, security personnel and organizations like Irving's started meeting in March with bank officials.

"Early in the year we had some problems," McGinnis said, because banks were allowing large sums of money to be kept in individual tellers' drawers and turning over "very large sums of money," to anybody who showed up with a demand note.

Early in the year, $26,000 was stolen in one holdup, he said.

Banks were also were delaying notification of police, calling corporate headquarters first, McGinnis said.

One thief walked right out of a bank he had just robbed and flagged down a cab with a bank- robbery stakeout team outside because the bank had not alerted police to the holdup, McGinnis said.

"These guys, they go back to the neighborhood, and everybody starts thinking it's bank robbery a great idea.

"It's an easy, nonthreatening robbery,"McGinnis added. Better than the corner store, "where the owner might have a gun."

"We had some resistance from banks," concerned that heavy security might frighten off customers, McGinnis said, but eventually there was agreement on new security measures.

"Some of the banks put in some new technology last year that we support, like a satellite tracking device," stashed in with the money, he said.

Some have equipped branches with "man-trap" revolving doors, which lock the bandit in as he tries to flee with the loot, McGinnis said.

"They're very effective, all bulletproof glass. Even if they a bandit were to pull out a gun and start shooting, the bullet would start ricocheting around."

New digital-surveillance cameras, which can send finely detailed photos from a crime scene quickly by e-mail to law enforcement and the media, also are being used by banks, said Joseph Mason, a banking expert and associate professor at Drexel University.

Some believe some of the increase in bank robberies may be related to bank mergers and rapid expansion of branches, with security measures trailing behind, he said.

The number of Center City bank robberies declined as the year progressed, Irving said.

But still, 73 holdups were committed in the sixth and ninth police districts in Center City in 2004, 43 percent more than the year before, she said.

Irving said Center City banks had 12 robberies last January and two in December.

But bank robbers were branching out farther into the suburbs and South Jersey, she said.

Gambino, of the Philadelphia FBI, said there had been 458 bank robberies in the eastern half of Pennsylvania and three nearby counties in New Jersey in 2004, compared to 320 in 2003 and 246 in 2002.

Said Carbonell: "A lot of the time the guys doing robberies out in the counties are from Philadelphia."