What to Do in a Bank Robbery

Bank Robber
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Unfortunately, bank robbery happens much too often in the US. If you’re ever in the bank when there is a bank robbery, you need to know how to handle yourself. Here are a few simple tips that will help you both survive or perhaps catch the robber. Although the latter is not highly recommended.

Bank Robbery Statistics

It is important to understand how bank robberies occur in the U.S. 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 robbery occurs approximately eight times a day (as of 2018).

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. This is important to know because you may not even know that a robbery is in progress.

Being a professional bank robber 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 not keeping vaults stacked full of money (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

Banks and credit unions offer bank robbery training to all of their employees. By receiving proper training, it can help them take the right actions (and avoid the wrong ones) during a bank robbery to keep you safe. To make the best of a bad situation, both employees and customers should keep the following in mind:

  • Your money is insured; the only thing at risk is your safety.
  • Let the guy have what he wants; the sooner he gets it, the sooner he’ll go away. Nothing is more important than your 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 emotions in such a situation, the best thing is to get the robber out of there, so everybody is safe. In most cases, bank robbers are in a financially desperate state. Their desperation, in conjunction with fear, is a dangerous combination.

Bank Robbery Heroes (Don't Be One)

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 for 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.

If you notice that a bank robbery is in progress, get some details on the robber that you can pass on to the police. Helpful information includes:

  • Clothing: Look for layers underneath their visible garments (their outer layer such as a jacket, sweater, or shirt may 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.

Some bank robbers are savvy enough to avoid getting caught, and they probably know 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 robber is the type who wants to take hostages, then there isn't much advice to offer, as things can get out of control easily. Unfortunately, hostage situations can potentially increase your chances of getting hurt or even death.

Some robbers take a hostage with them to secure the getaway. If so, 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.

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, make sure you do not 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).

During a bank robbery, there is a great chance that stress levels will be high. If you are able, help others keep the evidence intact at the crime scene by ensuring nothing is altered. Gently remind them, stressing that the police will need the information and 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 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 or being a victim in a bank robbery is a very traumatic experience. We simply don’t expect it to happen in everyday life. In fact, most individuals affected by this event are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. This is a mental condition in which victims or witnesses suffer from anxiety long after a crime or tragedy occurs. Some symptoms of PTSD to look out for include emotional flatness, anger, fearfulness, sleep problems, body pains, and strained relations.

Most banks will often bring in professional counselors to work with employees who were recently involved in a bank robbery—to help them cope with any mental (or emotional) stress and trauma. As a customer, this is definitely a practice that you and your family may want to explore should you be a part of such a horrible event.