Banks in North Carolina are fed up with robberies, and the state bankers association and the Federal Bureau of Investigation plan to do something about it.
Bankers are working with the FBI to create a comprehensive robbery awareness program, dubbed Bankwatch, that will include training tellers to deal with robberies and the creation of a robbery database to spot especially dangerous hours and locations.
North Carolina is one of the few states where bank robberies are on the rise. Banks have reported a near-record 275 this year, versus 221 in all of 1999. One goal for Bankwatch is to push the 2001 total below 200.
Our purpose is to be inhospitable to bank robbers, said Paul Stock, executive vice president of the North Carolina Bankers Association.
Bankwatch grew out of an October meeting the trade group arranged with Chris Swecker, the FBIs special agent in charge in North Carolina. It was decided at that meeting that Mr. Swecker and the states top 10 banks would meet in November to discuss what could be done to curb robberies. At two follow-up meetings in early December, the security committee from the bankers association met to turn these ideas into Bankwatch.
Mr. Swecker said that to his knowledge only Los Angeles and Chicago already have programs aimed specifically at lowering bank robberies.
Early next year, Mr. Stock said, the North Carolina trade group and the FBI will start holding mock robberies across the state to teach tellers what to do. Plans for later include equipping branches in Charlotte with tracking devices to slip into bags of money; the Pro-net device, which can help track a bag in the event of theft, has been credited with helping catch bank robbers in Durham and reducing hold-ups there.
Another key initiative will be certifying bank security cameras, which are notoriously temperamental, throughout the state. There are many banks with cameras that are not working, are without film, or do not cover major areas of the banks, Mr. Swecker said.
In addition to helping banks, Bankwatch will work to demoralize robbers. The state is in the top 10 nationally in the ratio of bank robberies, according to the FBI, and Mr. Stock said he hopes to advertise that fact along with the trade groups long-standing program of rewards for efforts leading to the arrest and indictment of bank robbers in posters in every branch. (Billboards are also a possibility.)
If we cant scare them straight at least we can scare them out of banks in North Carolina, Mr. Stock said.
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