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Fewer bank stickups despite recession

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Despite one of the worst economic climates in recent history, the number of bank crimes fell sharply last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Monday.

There were a total of 6,065 violations of the Federal Bank Robbery and Incidental Crimes Statute, the FBI said. That's down 11% from 2008, when 6,857 violations were reported.

The FBI reported significant declines in all four categories of bank crimes: robberies fell 13%; burglaries were down 17%; larcenies declined 32% and extortions dropped 62%.

A spokeswoman at FBI headquarters in Washington said the agency does not normally comment on what causes bank crime statistics to go up or down because there are so many variables in the nationwide numbers.

"It's difficult to say why the numbers trend one way or the other," said Special Agent Richard Kolko, an FBI spokesman in New York. "But it's definitely a good thing when they go down."

James Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University in Boston, said the drop in bank crimes is consistent with a decline in overall crime statistics.

He said improved surveillance technology and other "target hardening" advancements have contributed to the decline in bank crimes, particularly robberies and burglaries.

"It's a very high risk crime now and criminals know that," he said. "There are easier ways to reap rewards from a life of crime."

The decline in bank crimes came amid one of the worst economic recessions on record and a double-digit percentage spike in unemployment. But criminologists said joblessness or financial hardship are not usually the factors that cause law-abiding citizens to become criminals, as the statistics suggest.

"The idea that citizens turn to crime to make ends meet when the economy goes bad is common belief, but an incorrect one," Fox said.

The FBI said loot was taken in 91% of the bank crimes committed last year. That's unchanged from 2008.

The total amount taken was valued at roughly $46 million, the bureau said. More than $8 million was recovered and returned to financial institutions.

The most common modus operandi, or method used, of bank robbers last year was the "oral demand," followed by the use of a "demand note," the FBI said. Firearms were the third most common MO and the use of a "weapon threatened" was the fourth.

Perpetrators used or threatened the use of explosives during one incident of bank extortion last year, while robbers made threats by telephone during two other incidents, the FBI said.

The FBI said acts of violence were committed during 269, or 4%, of the reported bank crimes, including 75 instances involving the discharge of firearms, and 47 instances of hostage situations.

Among those acts of violence, there were 21 that resulted in deaths, all of which were perpetrators. Additionally, there were 140 injuries, and 94 persons were taken hostage.

While nine officers were injured during the reported incidents, no law enforcement officers were killed responding to bank crimes in 2009, the FBI said.

The FBI said Friday was the most common day of the week for bank crimes, while the hours between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. were the most common time of day. Most violations occurred in the South, with 2,048 reported incidents. To top of page

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