While robberies may be accepted as a fact of life at some financial institutions, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and San Antonio Police Department recently launched a program that shows it doesn’t have to be that way.
The Bandit Shield Program is only in its first few months of testing in the San Antonio area, but it’s already making waves. The program’s primary purpose is to prevent financial institution robberies and to assist all levels of law enforcement with robbery investigations.
Bandit Shield compiles financial institutions’ best practices into a comprehensive training program. Once a financial institution complies with most of the program’s requirements, it places a decal in the window indicating it’s a highly secure facility.
Local law enforcement and the FBI collaborated to develop the program with input from financial institutions about the most effective methods they use to deter robberies and aid in solving crimes.
San Antonio Credit Union (SACU) is one institution that contributed best practice suggestions to the program. The $2.9 billion credit union institution also received the first decal in the area, showing the credit union has complied with the program’s strict security and training requirements.
Jim Peters, SACU’s loss prevention officer (pictured at top of page, third from right), says the credit union is robbed about once a year despite its dedication to maintaining up-to-date security policies.
“You’d like to think that all financial institutions are giving 110% toward robbery policies, procedures, or processes,” says Peters. “But like so many companies in other industries, some have really good and well-established procedures and some have barely any at all. At SACU we try to stay on the cutting edge of that.”
Peters says Bandit Shield is one more way it can stay on top of the best security practices.
Erik Vasys, FBI special agent and media coordinator, San Antonio Division (pictured at top of page, second from left), explains why the program should make a dent in the number of robberies and escaped robbers.
“Bandit Shield provides a uniform base of training for financial institutions that we know works,” says Vasys. “All the things that we emphasize in this training are things that have been proven to work. The FBI hasn’t invented anything new; we’ve just gathered up best practices.”
Vasys says it’s common for the FBI to interview financial institution robbers once they’re in custody.
“When we arrest a bank robber we talk to them,” he says. “If they’re cooperative, we ask them what works and what doesn’t work, and why they picked a certain bank.”
This helps law enforcement address those financial institutions’ weaknesses.
Next: Training is crucial
Training is crucial
To develop Bandit Shield, the FBI also received input from an Austin, Texas-based FBI agent with extensive experience working financial institution robberies in Los Angeles—what Vasys calls the "Mecca” of financial institution robberies.
Bandit Shield is optional (and free) for financial institutions. Vasys says staff training is crucial to prepare for robberies.
“Training is what it’s all about,” he says. “We want tellers to be versed in the realities of what happens in bank robberies. That should affect how they interact with a bank robber.”
“Staff need to be informed of the dos and the don’ts during a robbery,” Peters echoes.
While most guidelines involved in the Bandit Shield Program are confidential, there’s one piece of advice all financial institutions should take, says Vasys.
“Everybody knows there are cameras in banks; that’s no secret,” he says. “But what we’re asking to do with Bandit Shield is to update their cameras to the best resolution they can afford.”
There’s an 80% to 90% chance, he says, that a robber lives near the financial institution he robs, so the best thing a financial institution can do is get a good photograph of the robber to put on the news.
“That’s where the marriage of the community and law enforcement begins in solving a crime,” says Vasys. “It’s really the public that’s solving these crimes.”
And if a financial institution needed any other reason to ramp up its security, Vasys says imprisoned robbers have a tendency to discuss how they got caught, which financial institutions to avoid, and other information.
“The word gets out as to who’s vulnerable,” he says.
Peters says communication between law enforcement and financial institutions to catch robbers is a new concept—but one that’s proving very beneficial.
He says Bandit Shield has had a “tremendous” effect on employee morale, as well.
“It shows that law enforcement is really trying to look over our shoulder and give us the best of practices,” he says. “And employees see we’re doing about everything we can do” to prevent robberies.
Other advice Peters offers credit unions for combating robbery:
Next: Follow proper security procedures
Follow proper security procedures
Common-sense safety procedures can help prevent credit union robberies. The “Robbery Prevention and Preparation” manual used in CUNA’s Staff Training and Recognition Program advises credit unions to take these precautions:
• Observe confidentiality. Sometimes even a tidbit of information—“We’re shorthanded because of vacations”—can tip off a potential robber to an opportunity. Employees should never discuss credit union or member business with others, not even their own families.
You can’t tell what information might be passed along to someone who might use it to hurt the credit union.
• Have two employees open the credit union each morning. While one employee remains in his or her vehicle, the other should check the perimeter of the building to make sure no one is lurking nearby and to look for signs of forced entry.
Then the first employee should unlock the building and make sure no one is hiding inside. If no one is present, the employee gives a predetermined “all clear” signal, such as opening or closing a shade or blind, turning on a light, putting a sign in the window, or giving a hand signal.
• Restrict keys. In general, employees should not have keys to the credit union. Exceptions include the security administrator and employees responsible for opening and closing the credit union.
All others arriving in the morning should be admitted by one of the opening employees.
• Be wary of deliveries. If a delivery person, police officer, repair person, or other individual claiming to have business with the credit union arrives prior to normal business hours, verify the person’s identity before admitting him or her.
• Be attentive as the business day winds to a close. Robbers may enter a credit union a few minutes before closing and hide in the restroom or other area.
Pay particular attention to the last people in line, or those lingering in the lobby.
For more information, consult CUNA’s training resources.
LIBBY VERTZ is an intern in CUNA’s business-to-business publishing department. Contact her at 608-231-4096.