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A rash of robberies: Central Arkansas banks become targets for criminals.

It's the middle of the afternoon at a Little Rock branch of Worthen National Bank of Arkansas. It's Monday, April 20, to be exact.

On March 17, the branch had been robbed.

Now, just more than a month later, two black males in their late teens or early 20s walk across Cantrell Road from Wendy's Old-Fashioned Hamburgers. Outside the front door of the bank, they put on ski masks. One of the men takes out a handgun.

They come in quickly, demanding money. The man with the gun fires a shot into the ceiling behind the tellers -- just to show he's serious.

The two men are given money. As they run south, a dye pack explodes. The robbers leave a trail of marked bills while racing through the parking lot of the Cantrell Valley Apartments.

It seems that every time you pick up a newspaper, another bank robbery is being reported.

There already have been 11 robberies in Little Rock this year. That compares with 18 for all of 1991. And seven of those 18 robberies occurred in the last six weeks of the year.

The past five months have been especially worrisome for bankers.

"There is a great deal of collective concern," says Jack Fleischauer Jr., president and chief operating officer at Worthen.

Worthen has been the target of five of this year's robberies.

Chief executive officers and presidents of central Arkansas banks met recently to discuss the trend.

In 1990, there were six bank robberies in Little Rock.

In 1989, there were five.

In 1988, there were eight.

Terry Renaud, chairman and chief executive officer of Twin City Bank at North Little Rock, organized the meeting of bank officers. There will be another meeting soon to share information about how to defend against attacks. There may even be a joint television commercial to warn potential bank robbers that they're likely to be caught.

Five of the 11 robberies this year have been solved.

The rate for solving such cases is as high as 95 percent in some areas.

On the day of the April 20 robbery, for example, police received a tip that led to the arrest of two suspects. The suspects had returned to the parking lot where they left the trail of bills. A suspicious resident of the area copied down their car's license plate number and called the police.

"Bank robbery is a rather stupid crime because the solution rate is so high," says Special Agent Ron Wolfe, the public information officer for the Little Rock office of the FBI.

The number of bank robberies is rising faster nationally than the number of other violent crimes. Between 1986 and 1990, the number of bank robberies increased by 36 percent. That compares with increases of 26 percent for convenience store robberies and 3 percent for service station robberies. The number of street robberies increased by 21 percent.

Why are banks becoming such a popular target?

"Maybe people believe it's easy to rob a bank," says Lt. Charles Holladay, public information officer for the Little Rock Police Department.

Central Arkansas banks are teaming up to show potential robbers that's banks aren't a smart target.

Divulging Information

Many bankers believe media reports encourage potential robbers.

"I'm concerned the media has made this look as if it's easy," Fleischauer says.

He and other bankers charge that robberies receive good play in newspapers when they occur. But when the crimes are solved, the news is buried, the bankers contend.

Randy Herlocker, executive vice president of Little Rock's One National Bank, says media outlets do "a good job of educating potential bank robbers or thieves on various surveillance devices and robbery deterrents such as dye packs."

Bankers are hesitant to discuss the recent rash of robberies and what they're doing to fight the problem.

"I just don't want to put our people in any more jeopardy," Herlocker says.

He refuses to discuss specific measures One National Bank is taking to stop the robberies. He does, however, say that increased security is a natural step. The bank employs off-duty policemen in some of its branches. Beginning June 1, private security officers will be at all locations.

Security equipment is being updated at most central Arkansas banks. Following the recent thefts of two automated teller machines, some area banks are building concrete enclosures for their ATMs.

Employee training also is becoming more common. Large banks have in-house training programs, and the American Bankers Association offers six-week and 11-week training courses.

Employees generally are taught not to resist a robbery, although there are devices they can use to alert police. Officers sometimes arrive before robberies are completed.

The Greater Little Rock Security Council, formed in 1974 to give bankers and law enforcement officials an opportunity to discuss problems during monthly forums, is focusing its attention on the bank robberies. Several special meetings have been called since the first of the year.

"What we've tried to do is open our committee up to anyone who wishes to step forward and make suggestions," says Larry Breashears, a branch administrator at One National Bank and chairman of the Security Council.

People are looking for ways to stop the robberies.

But why are so many occurring?

"I don't think there's a cause and effect," says Deane Conklin III, an executive vice president at Little Rock's First Commercial Bank. "I'm not a psychologist. I'm a banker."

Herlocker says bank robbers are "driven by some force other than intelligence."

"It is hard to look inside the heads of these individuals," Fleischauer says.

Yet he believes drug abuse and a weak economy are to blame for many of the robberies.

Regardless of why the crimes are committed, bankers are dedicated to finding solutions.

"We've not come up with any iron-clad solutions, but we're dang sure looking," Breashears says.
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Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:May 4, 1992
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