Southland Bank Robberies on the Increase

FBI Counts as many bank robberies so far this year as all of 2007

The downward trend in bank robberies is over.

Southern California's 339 bank robberies in 2007 had been the lowest number in decades.  By the FBI's count, this year had already hit 339 by the end of last month, and the number is still going up.. 

In Orange County, the increase has been particularly dramatic, 50% according to Sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino.  He spoke of the increase Monday morning at the scene of a take-over robbery of the Bank of America branch in Lake Forest on El Toro Road at Serrano.  One of the three robbers used his pistol to strike a bank employee on the head.  Take-over robberies that escalate into violence, such as happened in Lake Forest, are of particular concern, according to Amormino.  "The way they operated, I doubt seriously that this is the first time they robbed a bank," Amormino said.

Last month, three robbers had taken over a City of Orange Citibank.  With the aid of witnesses and security camera video, authorities are investigating the possibility it was the same three men at both robberies.  In the city of Orange, the robbers also ordered customers onto the floor, and they succeeded in gaining access to the vault.  In Lake Forest, the robbers were told the vault could not be opened, and they left with cash from the tellers' counter drawers.

It's believed some of the uptick in bank robberies can be traced to the economic downturn.  In Los Angeles, the FBI acknowledged that in some investigations, it appears the robber was motivated by loss of job or other financial pressures.  But the Bureau emphasized  it is still true that the majority of bank robbers are drug or gambling addicts in need of cash to pay for their addictions.  Interestingly enough, the bank robbery rate in Southern California had trended downward during the recession in the early years of this decade. according to FBI statistics.  Not so this time.

Security camera video showed that the Lake Forest robbers were all wearing disguises:  one wore a fake beard and blond wig, another wore a ski mask, and the third wore a gardener's wide-brimmed hat.  Authorities discovered the alleged get-away vehicle, a GMC "Jimmy" SUV, on the other side of the shopping mall.  In the back could be seen a straw hat that appeared to be the one worn by one of the robbers.

Meantime, the FBI released security camera images of the robber it has dubbed the  "Sport Bike Bandit."  In two Long Beach bank robberies, and another attempted robbery in Pasadena, the robber is seen wearing a black motorcycle helmet.  It may be the same perpetrator in all three cases, but with his face hidden, the FBI cannot say for sure.

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