FBI statistics actually show that bank robberies in the U.S. are down compared to last year, although they started the year higher. According to the government numbers, 68 more banks and 36 more credit unions were robbed in the first quarter of 2008 compared to the first quarter of 2007. But for the rest of 2008, the robbery numbers were lower than 2007.
In the second quarter of 2008, nine fewer banks and eight fewer credit unions were robbed than in the second quarter of 2007. Robberies fell off even more dramatically for the third quarter of 2008 compared to the previous year, dropping by 157 at banks and 18 at credit unions.
Nonetheless, CoastHills Federal Credit Union in Lompoc, Calif., maintains its program of using drills to prepare for robberies, in part because the CU practices what to do in an armed robbery and not the more common pass-the-note robbery.
Scott Coe, senior vice president of marketing for CoastHills, credited the drills for both helping the CU weather a 1997 armed robbery without injury to any staff or members and for preventing a potential robbery in January of this year.
In the most recent incident, a man dressed in what a teller thought to be a suspicious manner came into a CoastHills branch. The teller made a point of greeting the man and welcoming him the branch, and the man abruptly left the CU. Later that day, a man resembling the description of the man the teller found suspicious robbed two other local bank branches.
Coe explained that the serious and dangerous nature of the armed takeover robbery kept the CU drilling on it, even if it's less common.
The credit union views all robberies as serious, Coe explained, but the procedures of what to do in a pass-the-note robbery are relatively easier to prepare for than an armed robbery.
In a note passing robbery, the whole attack may take only a few minutes. The robber may not show a weapon but usually imply they have one. Quiet and quick, with involvement usually limited to one employee and the robber. The other employees and customers often don't realize a crime is in progress until it's over. Tellers are trained to comply with the demand quickly and calmly to avoid antagonizing the robber and possibly endangering lives.
Armed, takeover robberies, on the other hand, can be fast, volatile and intimidating. CoastHills' interactive mock robbery allowed employees to experience this escalated crime scenario first hand, without being in any actual danger.
In the drills, which are scheduled well in advance and take place after hours, local law enforcement personnel mimic the behavior of armed robbers, while other law enforcement personnel practice their roles in responding to this sort of attack. The drills are all professionally videotaped and the tapes are used later to review and train credit union staff on their behavior during an armed robbery.
Local law enforcement doesn't charge the credit union for participation in the exercises, and Coe said the costs of the drills are usually limited to the costs of overtime for credit union personnel who participate.
"The staff is generally very supportive of the exercises," Coe explained.
"We've been doing robbery training like this for many years. It's a practice we feel is vital in preparing our employees for just such a situation," said Carolyn White, Education Manager for CoastHills. She also commended the local law enforcement agencies for their help with simulating the robbery. "We appreciate their willingness to support our training efforts."
Coe said he doesn't understand why these drills have fallen out of favor. CoastHills routinely invites other financial institutions in the area to send staff to participate in the drills, but they rarely do so.
Phil Tschudy, spokesman for CUNA Mutual Group, supported the use of planned drills but warned credit unions off of surprising staff with them.
"We totally support training credit union staff to be prepared for a robbery situation and to know what to do before, during and after one occurs," he said. "The more realistic the training, the better prepared employees will be."