Bank Robbery a 'Loser Crime'

Nearly 60 percent of bank robbers were caught in 2006.

ByABC News
February 11, 2009, 9:16 PM

August 1, 2007 — -- They make it seem like easy money. In several recent high-profile bank robberies, thieves walked into banks, armed with nothing more than a note. Minutes later, they walked out with an undisclosed amount of cash.

But appearances can be deceiving. Though bank robberies are on the rise, according to the FBI and criminologists, they may not be the smartest of crimes. While most of the stolen money is never recovered, the robberies often yield only a few thousand dollars, and most would-be Bonnie and Clydes get caught and are often sentenced to tough prison terms.

"It's a loser crime," said Robert McCrie, a professor of security management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, who has studied bank robbery for more than 30 years. "So little money and so much that one gives up afterward: two, three, four years of freedom. And that's just with a note."

So far this year, the average robbery cost banks about $10,000, according to the FBI. But in many cases, such as the increasingly common note-passer robberies, the take can be closer to $1,000, authorities say. 

"The bank takeovers the vaulters that go over counter, the serial robbers know to ask for more," said Larry Sparks, chief of the FBI violent crimes unit.

Unlike the popular image of Bonnie and Clyde the notorious outlaws of the 1930s today's bank robberies are usually relatively inconspicuous crimes of impulse and opportunity, often committed by people with drug or alcohol problems, that may not even be noticed by many people at the bank, experts say.

"If you look at the numbers, it's people with addiction problems who have fallen off the financial bandwagon," said Brad Garrett, an ABC News consultant and former FBI agent, who, by his own estimate, has handled hundreds of bank robbery cases. "They usually don't net much money."

Robbers are often able to get out of the bank, and most of the stolen money is never recovered it is quickly spent.

But there's still a high risk of getting caught.

Bank robbery has among the highest arrest rate of any crime in the country 59 percent of bank robberies were solved last year, said Sparks. To compare, about a quarter of the total number of robbery cases nationwide were closed in 2005, and only 12 percent of burglary cases were closed that year.