I've had the unhappy pleasure of following the increase in the targeting of CU staff for home invasions and robbery attempts (CU Journal, June 9). These invasions shake the confidence of both the employees and their families regarding the safety of their workplace and also their homes.
As the number of check cashing stores located in our cities has grown, so also is the targeting of this business for robbery. The current method is to identify the residence of an employee who is perceived to have the ability to access the cash. The home is then invaded and the family is either tied up or duct taped and left at the residence or brought along to the shop. The employee is then instructed to provide the codes or open the vault.
In robberies to date, violence has been minimal but the trauma great. There are few things so difficult for a family to deal with as having the home violated. For the male family member, additional issues involve his ability to protect-defend his family from harm.
With all this in mind, allow me to make some simple suggestions to the employees and management of credit unions.
* Understand that the only time you will be able to stop the invasion of your home is during the criminal's planning stage of the attack. If you present an easy target they'll go after you. If you appear to be cautious and offer any risk to them, they'll choose someone else. We need to think of our homes as we do the office. We watch the area around the building and report things that appear out of the ordinary. We need to do this with our homes and the entire family must be involved. The criminals don't just drive up in the early morning and break in-they watch and observe your behavior and decide their risk. Let's raise the risk to them by lighting the grounds, cutting back the bushes having good locks and solid doors. We should also take the cell phone into the bedroom when we retire for the night.
* If the worst should happen, we still have the ability to control events if we maintain our composure. I understand that this may be difficult, but if this possibility is discussed with family members before it happens, you have a plan, you have a much better chance of staying in control. What we don't need at this time is a "John Wayne." The criminals are just as frightened as you are and they have the guns, so we need to do everything we can to calm them and not encourage them to become violent. Assure them of your cooperation and inform them of any medical problems in the family. This is the most difficult time for the male family member. He will feel the need to challenge and fight the criminals, but this is probably the worst thing that he could do. This is why it's important to talk about this before it happens. The father must understand that he must remain calm, as violence, once started, may expand and result in injury to all the family members. Your calm demeanor will lower the aggression level of the criminals.
* Attempt to obtain a promise of safe release if you cooperate from the leader of the criminal group. They may be criminals, but some of them keep their word. Remember, what they are after is not you, but the money.
* Have a plan to notify officers of the credit union as soon as possible. Other employees may also have been targeted.
* Observe and try to remember the appearance of the criminals. What did they say? Did they use cell phones or radios to communicate? Did they leave anything behind? If so, point it out to the police and don't handle it.
When the event is over, now the work begins for the management. You have a family that is traumatized and they need your support. Never say "you should have" or "why didn't you" to them. You are adding guilt and not allowing them to deal with the event. The victim family is just part of the damage to the credit union. Every employee is also thinking that they "might be next" or "it could have been them." We must try and put them back in control of their lives. I suggest holding a meeting, or a dinner, that all the employees and families are invited to attend. Discuss the event and actions that are being taken to protect employees and assist in the arrest to those responsible. A suggestion would be to conduct a security survey of the entire facility, and involve the families in securing the homes. Bring a speaker in that can address the issues raised by your employees.
The goal is to return control back to your employees. An additional suggestion of to offer them an outside consultant with whom they are free to communicate regarding issues of safety. This person will then present the issues to management for action.
Keep the support network for the victim family. This may take some time, if ever, that they feel they have the event in perspective. They may have to attend line-ups and testify before a grand jury. An employee should be assigned to accompany them and stay with them through the judicial process.
This is the short version of some of the things that should be discussed. As this criminal activity continues, lets all hope that it's only money that is lost.
Mr. Purtell retired from the FBI after 30 years of service, including being a Supervisory Special Agent in the Critical Incident Response Group, a select unit within the FBI. He has since formed an Investigative Consulting Company, Madison Research Associates, which provides training to law enforcement and the financial community. He has spoken at several league meetings.
Mr. Purtell can be reached at 608-592-2311 or purtellneil hotmail.com.