Bank robberies seem to be the crime of our time.
A masked man walked into South Carolina's Greenville First Bank last month with a handgun and demanded cash. The alleged suspect, Bruce Windsor, who owns a local real estate business and was a deacon in his church, allegedly entered the bank while brandishing a firearm with the intent to commit robbery. He has been charged with attempted armed robbery and kidnapping.
A grandmother from Ohio, a former bank teller, reportedly robbed three bank branches to support her son, who was apparently deep in debt. Barbara Joly, 68, was sentenced to six years in prison for robbing several banks last year.
And in the country's largest city, bank robberies have spiked 57 percent in the past year.
"It's a real big problem in the city of New York," said Butch Neacy, who heads the New York Police Department's major case squad. "We had 444 bank robberies last year citywide. ... That's the most bank robberies that the city experienced in 15 years."
The major case squad tracks bank robberies citywide, responding to every single incident. It appears to be an endless chase.
"Nightline" tagged along with the team on a recent night, when the latest thorn in the squad's side had struck again.
One man, whose series of robberies have been dubbed "Pattern Two" by the team, has been approaching bank tellers in a heavy coat, with his face covered. He hands the teller a note, threatens violence and makes a quick escape with his prize.
Since late January, he is believed to be responsible for 14 robberies, including four attempts in a single afternoon. He has walked away with more than $14,000, including more than $2,000 from a Wachovia bank branch in Midtown Manhattan.
"He's very smooth, he walks in very quietly," NYPD Det. Janice Meehan said. "It's frustrating that we were here earlier and because we had another incident a few blocks away, we went to that."
By New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's calculation, "It's become easy to rob a bank; you don't need a gun, you don't even need a threat -- all you need is a pen and a paper. That's the reality and that's the word in the criminal community."
Contrary to popular fiction, most robberies in New York City are not the "shoot 'em up" Hollywood-style operations. Police say the robbers rarely flash guns; most pass notes ranging from hostile, to polite, to comical, to crudely artistic.
"Some of the incidents that we investigate are laughable, the way the perps walk in there, pass a note and they're able to walk out with money," Neacy said.
While the notes may be funny, these robbers get away with serious money.
Kelly says the banks are "a significant contributor" to the problem. "We didn't see this percentage of bank robberies when we had banks that looked like banks," he said.
At TD Bank, the head of retail services sees things differently.
"If you look at the economic times, people that can't make it don't always take personal responsibility," Linda Verba said. "So I think it has more to do with that than just about anything else."
Kelly acknowledged that the recession may be a factor, "but it really hasn't manifested itself to us. Is it a possibility down the road? Probably."
Kelly has saved his greatest criticism for TD Bank, which prides itself on its convenience and welcoming environment.