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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – It’s a peaceful day at the credit union. In fact, a man has been comfortably seated in a chair in the waiting area for a while now apparently reading some material from the literature rack. In the teller line, the man at the head of the line has told an obviously impatient member to “please go ahead, I’m in no hurry.” At another branch, the manager is gazing at a desk stacked with work and thinking she will come in an hour or two early tomorrow morning. Alone with no phones ringing and no staff parading in with problems and questions, she plans to accomplish a lot. What seems benign could actually be threatening, warns Plinio Rodriguez, a security expert. As general manager of NovaComm Security he conducts security surveys for credit unions and other financial institutions. He is former senior vice president and director of security for Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, and served in military intelligence as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. That man sitting so patiently may be a would-be robber casing the credit union to see if he can spot patterns and weaknesses, Rodriguez warns. That actually happened at a bank in Puerto Rico, he notes. Nobody ever walked up to the man sitting in the chair for so long and asked if they could help him. How observant are the tellers? Are they looking at faces and looking people in the eye? The man in the teller line may also be planning a robbery. As he’s worked his way to the front he has spotted what he considers to be the most vulnerable employee, and he has allowed another member to go ahead so he will be called to the teller station he wants. Almost nobody gives up their place in line, but no employee has paid attention to him. As for the manager planning an early morning arrival, Rodriguez hopes she is alert to the possibility someone may be watching to take advantage of the first employee to arrive. Again Rodriguez recalls that actually happening at a bank. The robber took $1 million in night deposits. At closing, is there a thorough check to make certain nobody is hiding in one of the bathrooms? Rodriguez says while large financial institutions may have security directors who can warn employees to be wary of such potential threats, small credit unions may not have the resources to hire a full-time security person. “A lot of the large banks I know are very security conscious,” Rodriguez says. “They give their security person a lot of support and resources. Credit unions with one or two branches don’t have someone who specializes as a security officer. That also happens with small banks. So someone in operations may wear two hats.” If having a security director is such a good idea, and small credit unions can’t afford that, could several small credit unions join to hire someone to oversee security at all their offices? “It’s a very good approach,” Rodriguez responds. “Sometimes four or five credit unions could hire someone as a consultant. You do have to make certain that consultant is available when you need him.” With today’s sophisticated cameras, it’s possible to watch a number of locations even at night. So one security officer can monitor activity at a number of credit unions. If you look at security with the attitude nothing is going to happen to you, you’re wrong, Rodriguez emphasizes. Security is a mindset, he states. It’s part of doing business. Just because you’re a small credit union doesn’t mean a robber won’t target you. “Cash is cash,” Rodriguez declares. There has been a change in the nature of today’s bank robber, he continues. Professional robbers used to spend weeks preparing to strike. Their goal was to get the money and get out. They didn’t want to hurt anybody because they knew the penalty for murder was much stiffer than for bank robbery. The profile of today’s bank robbers is different. They’re often on drugs and can be very unpredictable. Yes, there may be security cameras in place, but today’s robbers may not care. Rodriguez remembers an actual bank robbery where the thieves ordered everybody to lie on the floor. One nervous employee tried to hide under a desk. The robber didn’t pause to tell her to get out from under the desk. He simply fired and hit her in the leg. “You want to get these people out of your branch,” Rodriguez emphasizes. “Observe their faces, their moves and the way they’re dressed – everything. But don’t stop them from taking the money. People have to start programming themselves to act correctly when something happens.” But when you’re staring at what looks like the largest handgun you’ve ever seen, will ongoing training overcome panic? “Nobody knows how you’re going to react,” Rodriguez answers. “But training helps.” He then underscores some familiar advice. “The last thing you want to do is present that robber with resistance. Do what he tells you to do. Give him the money and let him take the money.” -

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