Bank Crimes Rose 16% in '90, FBI Reports

WASHINGTON - Odetta R. Jordan, a pregnant mother in Cleveland, turned to robbing banks last year after falling behind on her bills.

Over two months Mrs. Jordan - unarmed - held up seven banks by passing notes to tellers. She netted $6,380 before being arrested.

She may not seem the typical criminal, but she was part of a trend: Bank crimes committed by women rose last year by 29%, to 382, while all bank robberies, burglaries, and larcenies were rising 16%. Those by white women, such as Mrs. Jordan, increased 42% to 228.

Worst Since 1978

But the women were still relatively small-time in what, for the criminal element, must seem to have been a banner year.

Banks, thrifts, credit unions, and armored-car companies lost $68 million from 8,235 robberies, burglaries, and larcenies last year. Those were the highest totals in at least 12 years, the period for which the Federal Bureau of Investigation has kept comparable records.

The 1990 figure was 16% higher than in 1989, when total bank crimes rose only 1.5% to 7,106.

Commercial banks are bearing the brunt of the increase: They sustained 32% more robberies and 30% more total violations in 1990.

Law enforcement officials blame the spreading problem on drugs, or else they cite the recession.

White males were involved in 4,478, or 54%, of last year's 8,235 violations, followed by black males, at 3,252 (39%) and Hispanic males, at 846 (10%). Women were perpetrators in 382 cases, or 5%. Of the 382 women involved, 60% were white, 34% black, and the rest Hispanics or of races unspecified in the data.

Financial institutions' $68 million in theft losses in 1990 were up 39% from $49 million in 1989. The 1988 loss was $46 million-from 6,995 violations.

Some Crooks Do Get Nabbed

All is not gravy for the robbers. Many get caught. Last year, law enforcement agencies reported recoveries totaling $23.7 million, compared with recoveries of $9.8 million in 1989 and $7.5 million in 1988.

Bank security specialists fear the trend in robberies will continue at least through this year because of the high demand for drugs - specifically cocaine - and the tough economic times.

"Drunks don't commit robberies; the guy on crack will, even in the face of security devices," said Francis Keating, director of security at Bank of New York.

"Everyone knows bank robberies are profitable," added Boris F. Melnikoff, chairman of the American Bankers Association money-laundering task force and a senior vice president of Wachovia Corp.

Side Effect of Recession

Mr. Keating also believes the recession has forced earners of lower wages, who have become unemployed, to turn to banks for quick, easy cash.

"A white-collar guy isn't going to do a stick-up, but a truck driver might, a ditchdigger might. They are tough guys, they are not afraid," he said.

Take Mrs. Jordan: Although she had a full-time job, she said she could not pay her rent, electric, and hospital bills. So she used her lunch hours to knock over banks. Now she is serving a five-year prison term in Alderson, W.Va.

The biggest state for bank crimes is the most populous, California, which had 2,656 last year, up 26% from 1989. Florida ranked a distant second with 744 robberies, up 43%; followed by New York with 694, up 35%; and Massachusetts with 259, up 31%.

Bankers do not know why certain institutions are robbed and others aren't. Last year, Puget Sound Bank of Tacoma, Wash., was hit nine times by the same robber. But this year, while other neighboring banks have been robbed, Puget Sound Bancorp unit has largely escaped trouble, said Ted Bjork, the bank's corporate security director.

"It's impossible to predict," he said.

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