The number of bank robberies and related crimes dipped last year from the record level of 1991, according to data recently published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The decline - the first since 1985 - indicates that new efforts to deter such crimes are paying off, said Gale Evans, chief of the FBI's violent crimes bureau in Washington.
"The banking community has recognized this as a problem, and they've taken steps on their own" to correct it, Mr. Evans said.
Concern over bank crime peaked in 1991, when 9,810 robberies, burglaries, and larcenies were committed at commercial and savings banks, savings and loans, credit unions, and armored carrier companies - the highest number since the FBI began compiling the data in 1934.
In 1992, the FBI counted 9,512 of these crimes.
The data show that the bank crime capital of the country is California. According to the FBI, there were 3,401 bank robberies, burglaries, and larcenies in the Golden State in 1992.
New York was second with 664 incidents, followed by Florida, with 527.
Quick Getaways a Factor
Mr. Evans said that California is susceptible to bank crime because its extensive freeway system gives robbers an easy means of escape.
Gang violence, and the rising popularity of "takeover crimes," where robbers use guns or intimidation to control a bank, are also fueling the problem.
Banks are fighting back, including BankAmerica Corp., which was hit with a whopping 744 robberies in 1992.
A series of initiatives to beef up bank security - including installation of bulletproof windows called "bandit barriers," the hiring of more guards, and the posting of rewards - has contributed to a 43% decrease in the incidence of crime at BankAmerica far this year, said Deborah Jacob, a senior vice president and director of the bank's security services.
"We're really proud of the results we've seen," she said.
Losses have dropped 43%, while the recovery of stolen cash has risen 65%.
Among the methods BankAmerica is using to recover money is inserting "dye-bombs" in packets of bills. When activated by radio, the devices explode in clouds of red ink that stains money and clothes.
But even though the incidence of bank crime declined last year across the nation, losses continued to mount. According to the FBI, $68 million was taken last year during bank crimes, up from $66 million in 1991.
More than 170 Injuries
And less of the loot was recovered in 1992 - approximately $10 million, compared with $11.5 million in 1991.
There continued to be a human toll
More than 170 people were injured during bank crimes last year, the highest number since 1987. There were 18 fatalities, and 118 hostages were taken.
The most frequent cause of injury during bank crimes was an unprovoked action by a robber, the FBI reported.
The perpetrators in 60% of those committing bank crimes are eventually caught, Mr. Evans said.