Home News Stories 2009 August SafeCatch Helps Prevent Robberies

SafeCatch Helps Prevent Robberies

Operation Safecatch
A Proactive Approach to Bank Robberies

Bank Robber and Teller

“SafeCatch doesn’t put bank employees in danger, but it does empower them to make a
potential robber think twice about going through with it,” says Special Agent Larry Carr.

08/06/09

A Seattle bank teller last week chased a would-be robber from the bank, wrestled him to the ground several blocks later and held him there until police came. To some, the teller’s actions were heroic, but he was not following long held banking industry policies.

While police and the FBI discourage behavior like the teller’s admittedly instinctive response, an agent in our Seattle office says there is indeed a way for bank employees to be heroes in the event of a robbery, and without putting anyone at risk. All they have to do is follow the guidelines recommended in our innovative bank robbery suppression program called SafeCatch.

SafeCatch doesn’t put bank employees in danger, but it does empower them to make a potential robber think twice about going through with it, and if he does, it teaches employees to partner with law enforcement to safely assist in the capture,” said Special Agent Larry Carr, our Seattle bank robbery coordinator who created the SafeCatch concept several years ago.

Since 2006, Carr has provided SafeCatch training to some 40 Washington State financial institutions—that’s about 400 bank branches and 3,000 employees—and the results speak for themselves. Last year, Seattle saw a 51 percent decrease in the number of bank robberies from its decade average between 1996 and 2006 of approximately 300 robberies annually. These statistics are even more impressive considering that in many parts of the country bank robberies are on the rise.

The conventional wisdom in the banking industry regarding robberies can be summed up in one word: compliance. Hand over the money and make sure nobody gets hurt.  While well intended, Carr discovered this philosophy may actually be a contributing factor to the number of banks being robbed.

SafeCatch—which is being evaluated for use in other FBI field offices—takes a more proactive approach. First, it trains bank employees to spot suspicious behavior and safely take control of the situation. The majority of bank robbers are males acting alone without weapons—they know that using a weapon during a robbery can mean a lot more jail time. The robber typically poses as a customer waiting in line. It’s only when he gets to the teller’s window and makes a demand that he has committed a crime.

Employees trained in SafeCatch learn to spot “customers” who may be acting nervously or wearing hats or hooded sweatshirts—to shield their faces from security cameras. Before a robbery occurs, employees proactively engage the person:

“Good afternoon!” the employee might say. “I don’t think I’ve seen you in this branch before. If you’re here to open a new account, I can take your ID and help you at my desk.”

That action might be just enough to make the robber head for the door. If the person turns out to be a legitimate customer, Carr said, the only thing the employee has done is offer excellent customer service.

When a holdup does occur, SafeCatch trains the victim teller to dial 911 immediately, as opposed to activating an alarm. This way the teller, usually the only one who knows what happened, is in direct contact with the police in real time.

“It’s important to catch the guy after his first robbery and before he can strike again,” Carr said. “If we teach strategies that make it possible to safely achieve a police capture, you will see dramatic drop in an area’s bank robbery rate.”

Resources:
- 2008 Bank Crime Statistics
- Unknown Bank Robbers