What to Do in a Bank Robbery
Don't be a hero, here's how to act to survive a robbery
Bank robbery is too common in the US. If you’re ever in the bank when there is a bank robbery, you need to know how to handle yourself. A few simple tips will help you survive the incident and perhaps catch the robber.
Bank Robbery Training
Banks and credit unions offer bank robbery training to all of their employees, and consumers should also know what to do if the situation arises. This page is intended to help you take the right actions during a bank robbery (or to be more precise, it can help you avoid taking the wrong actions).
Bank Robbery Statistics
It is important to understand how bank robberies occur in the US. If you want details on the methods and frequency, you can find a wealth of information in the FBI’s reports on bank robberies. In particular, they show that a bank is robbed approximately every hour (as of the latest data). This is often enough to keep yourself alert.
Next, keep in mind that the majority of bank robbery attempts are “note-passings”. This is a case where the bank robber simply brings a note informing the teller that a robbery is in progress and that the teller should hand over all the money – no screaming or waving guns around like in the movies. Why is this important? Because you may not even know that a robbery is in progress.
You’ll also be pleased to find out that bank robbery is not a lucrative career. Most robberies result in a relatively small amount of money leaving the institution. Banks are much more careful these days about keeping vaults stacked full of money (again, it’s not like what you see in the movies). They know that keeping too much cash around is an unwise idea for a variety of reasons.
Simple Survival Steps
To make the best of a bad situation, think along the following lines:
- My money is insured, the only thing at risk is my safety (see below)
- Let the guy have what he wants; the sooner he gets it the sooner he’ll go away. Nothing is more important than personal safety
- He’s probably done this before or he’ll do it again – the more often he does it, the better his chances of getting caught
Although it may be difficult to control your anger in such a situation (after all, you have to work for a living don’t you?), the best thing is to just get the robber out of there so everybody is safe. Desperation leads to bank robberies, and a desperate and scared person is a dangerous person.
Bank Robbery Heroes
Every law enforcement official will tell you the same thing: the most heroic act you should take in a bank robbery is to notice details about the robber. It is extremely risky (to yourself and others) to try to stop the robbery by force. Keep in mind that an increasing number of bank robbers are using powerful drugs (cocaine and methamphetamine, for example) during the robbery, which can provide extraordinary energy and ability to withstand pain. You don’t want to take chances with an intoxicated person in a desperate situation – it’s simply not worth all of the money in the world.
If you notice that a bank robbery is in progress, simply get some details on the robber that you can pass on to the police. Some helpful information:
- Clothing – look for layers under the visible layer (the outer layer will come off)
- Physical characteristics – height, weight, eyes, hair, mannerisms, scars/tattoos
- Automobile description (not the most important since it’s probably stolen, but police might be able to catch the robber shortly after the event)
- Direction of travel
- Weapons – the police need to know if the robber is armed
Remember that the bank robber is trying to avoid getting caught, and he probably knows what you’re looking for. Therefore, do not stare at a bank robber. In fact, it’s best not to attract any attention to yourself. Simply follow instructions so that the robber can get out of there as soon as possible. Law enforcement will pursue the robber. Agitating a bank robber can result in harm to yourself and/or others.
Bank Robbery Hostages
If the bank robbery is the type where the robber wants to take hostages, then there isn't much advice to offer, as things can get out of control easily. Some robbers want to take a hostage with them to secure the getaway (then they might drop you off a mile away, or they might have other things in mind – you never know). Whether or not you resist is up to you. There are a variety of ways to make yourself less attractive as a hostage. Be creative: use emotions, bodily functions, or anything else you can think of that will make the robber want to leave you behind.
Keep in mind that the robber may or may not be reasonable. If he promises to let you go immediately following the getaway, you need to decide how confident you are that things will go according to plan.
Help Preserve the Evidence
After the robber has left the building and everybody is safe, take a breath and relax – you made it! Now, be sure not to disturb any evidence left by the robber. Do not walk over to the area where the robber was, and certainly, don’t touch anything that the robber touched (or left behind).
Help others keep the evidence intact. Everybody will be excited, and they may forget that the crime scene cannot be altered. Gently remind them – stressing that the police need the information – that they should not disturb any evidence.
By leaving the crime scene intact, law enforcement will have a better chance of identifying the robber.
Keep the Facts Straight
It is likely that there will be several people with you – bank employees, other customers, and your family. Each person has a unique perspective, and it’s likely that you will all remember the details a little bit differently. Try to keep these differences intact and let investigators sort out any discrepancies.
If you let somebody change your perception of events – or if you change somebody else’s mind, you could ruin the investigation. It is best not to discuss the details until you have submitted a statement to law enforcement.
The Emotional Toll
Witnessing a bank robbery and being involved in a robbery is a very weird experience. We simply don’t expect it to happen in everyday life, and we can feel violated after the experience. Some of the people around you may react differently. Stay alert to any excessive emotions in yourself and others.
Banks will often bring counselors to work with employees who are involved in a robbery. You and your family may also want to work out any reactions to the event.