By Troy Evans
For over 15 years, I pursued a career as a self-employed addict, drug dealer, gambler and thief. I risked my life and sacrificed my family to satisfy my need for money, attention and independence. Ultimately, my disregard of values and discipline resulted in a 13-year federal prison sentence.
Following a subsequent six-month crime spree, which included five armed bank robberies in three states, my self-destructive lifestyle was brought to an end. I soon found myself within the razor wire and armed confines of the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colo., where my neighbors included such notorious criminals as Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.
Facing the obstacles, pressures and violence of prison life, I was determined that my second time behind bars would not be wasted. I chose education as my saving grace and set out to secure funding on my own through scholarships, grants and foundation assistance. After six months of submitting applications, writing essays, begging, pleading and selling, I landed my first scholarship for one class. That was a beginning, and when I walked out the doors of prison I carried with me two degrees, both obtained with a 4.0 GPA and placement on the Dean’s and President’s lists.
Sharing My Experiences
Since my release, I have taken the corporate, association and financial speaking platforms by storm. Audiences are stunned by my endurance, accomplishments and remarkable personal transformation. With straightforward, real life examples, I show how the keys to my success in prison are the keys to my success today and how these lessons can be applied to escaping the “prisons within ourselves.” I renew an appreciation for what is really important in all of our lives, and motivate each and every person to overcome adversity, adapt to change and realize their full potential.
For the past seven years, I have provided financial institutions with real-life insight surrounding robbery prevention, apprehension and recovery. By giving you a look into the “mind of the enemy,” I am confident that the suggestions that follow, if implemented, will dramatically decrease the chance of your financial institution being targeted for a robbery; increase the chances of a quick apprehension of the perpetrator(s); and aid in a speedy and full recovery of monies taken.
As we all know, bank and credit union robbery has, at best, remained steady year in and year out and, at worst, has seen an increase in recent years – and it is my belief that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future. It is imperative that action is taken to reverse, or at the very least minimize, this trend.
So how do you “robber proof” your institutions? It starts with the support of senior management. You need to create an environment that the would-be robber is going to want to pass up. A robber will always, and I mean always, take the path of least resistance!
Having met and interviewed over 300 convicted bank and credit union robbers, I found a couple of common threads. The first is that every institution is cased to some extent. No potential robber comes into a town, approaches the very first financial institution they come across and makes a decision to rob that branch. Perhaps it is the individual who drives by several times, deciding where to park their get-a-way vehicle; walks by several times trying to get a feel for the layout of the place; walks up to the teller and hands them a $10 bill asking for a roll of quarters, when again they are in reality getting a feel for the layout; or walks to the island and acts as though they are filling out a deposit slip only to walk back out as if they forgot something.
Maybe it’s someone a little more advanced, who sits down with a loan officer under the guise of being interested in a loan or the individual who sits in a nearby restaurant timing patrol cars and response times. The bottom line is that every institution is cased to some extent and employees need to be aware of suspicious activities – anything that stands out of the ordinary.
The majority of the people who come into your institutions are legitimate customers you see regularly. Those are not the people you need to worry about. You need to worry about the people whom you have never seen before. Make it a policy that if any employee sees an individual enter your institution who they do not recognize (and if they are not in the middle of some type of transaction) approach that individual, extend a hand and say, “Thank you for visiting our branch, what can we do for you today?” That, and that alone, can keep that potential robber from choosing your institution. The last thing they want is someone looking them in the eye and getting a good description. Legitimate customers will love it as fantastic customer service and potential robbers will deem that as reason enough to go down the road to another place that offers an easier path of resistance.
The second common thread I found in interviewing convicted robbers was male presence. Male presence alone can keep them from choosing your institution. The last thing that they want is someone who may play “Joe Hero” and try to thwart what they are attempting. I walked into dozens of institutions with every intention of committing that robbery, only to walk up to the teller, hand them a $10 bill and ask for a roll of quarters based on male presence. I understand that you may have trouble keeping male presence in your institution on a constant basis, but if at no other time; you need to have a male presence there on Fridays from 9:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. Fifty percent of all robberies (and in some years more) occur between these hours.
I believe Friday mornings are ripe for robberies for two reasons. First, there is a mistaken belief that there is more money in banks and credit unions on Fridays. We all know this is not true, but because it is payday for many people and because many checks will be cashed, there is a mistaken belief that more money is available. The second reason is that drug addiction is the driving force behind I would estimate 60 percent to 70 percent of all bank robberies, and addicts are scared that if they do not commit this crime on Friday, the “cash cow” is going to close for two days and that means their habit cannot be fed over the weekend. So it becomes a scenario where throughout the week they build up their nerve, and on Friday finally realize this is the day – they have to do this.
So you have done all that you can to prevent a robbery from taking place at your institution yet you are targeted. What should you do? I love the phrase “be aware but don’t stare.” As mentioned earlier, you have no idea what type of a person you are dealing with, and you do not want to challenge or agitate the individual. What you want to do is look for distinguishing marks or characteristics that make that individual stand out: scars, tattoos, etc.
When I was finally apprehended, the FBI told me that my cases were filed away as unsolvable. They had photos and ran those in the local newspapers and on local TV stations but because it was never in my own backyard, they were not getting any tips on my identity. I could have been any one of 10 million people residing in this country being slightly above average height but with nothing that made me stand out. They also had fingerprints from the notes I had passed, but because I had never been in trouble with the law, they were getting no matches there either.
If the tellers involved in my robberies had noticed that I had one ear that stuck out a little further than the other or that the fingernail digit of my middle finger on my right hand was crooked due to the fact that it was cut off when I was young and when re-attached never did heal correctly – perhaps if those things hade been noticed, they could have been broadcast along with the photos and maybe the guy who checked me in at the hotel that evening could have recalled that someone the night before had an ear that stuck out a little more than the other or perhaps a store clerk would have recalled the guy who handed her a bill with a hand that had a crooked middle fingernail. The bottom line is that if you take notice of even the slightest distinguishing marks or characteristics and if these can be relayed to law enforcement, the chances for a quick apprehension are enhanced greatly.
Immediately following a robbery, obviously the first thing you want to do is lock the door. You want to eliminate the possibility of a hostage situation should law enforcement arrive and the robber attempt to re-enter the branch. Of course once they leave the branch, the best case scenario is for someone to observe the route and means of escape and relay that information to someone who has law enforcement on the phone. But just as importantly as these things, every single individual who was involved in that robbery, whether a single teller or the entire staff, needs to immediately sit down and write out every detail, description and impression surrounding that robbery. Not 10, 20 or 30 minutes later, but immediately. It is amazing how much can be forgotten over a short period of time.
After my apprehension, and while going through trial, the most damaging testimony came from a single teller who had on her own (she had not be trained or instructed to do this) taken it upon herself to write out every description and detail that she could recall immediately following the robbery – my hat and what kind it was; the sunglasses and what brand they were; the shirt and what it said on it; my pants and what brand they were; and finally my shoes – brand, color, etc. When she took the stand and started describing these things in detail my attorney leaned over to me and said, “You better take the plea they are offering. You will never overcome this testimony.” Make it policy at your institution that everyone involved in a robbery immediately writes down all impressions and descriptions as they recall them.
The front line people are your most important and powerful deterrent to a potential robber who may be casing your institution. They, and they alone, can keep you from being targeted. Take a page out of the Wal-Mart book. Make it a policy to meet and great as many people as possible who come through your doors.
Some of the things I have mentioned above may be common sense, some you may have already implemented at your institution and some you may have needed to be reminded of once again, as complacency can be your greatest enemy. If you do nothing else that I have mentioned in this article, I would encourage you to implement the following two things immediately.
The first is a suspicious activities log. Every workstation should have a piece of paper, a journal or a notebook. I do not care what it is, but something needs to be within reach where a quick note can be jotted down if an individual sees something out of the ordinary or someone they do not recognize, no matter how trivial it may seem at the time. I encourage management to review these on a daily, if not at least weekly, basis, and if a pattern is detected or if people are seeing the same things, then there is a good chance that your institution is being cased for a robbery and appropriate measures need to be taken.
The second thing I would encourage your institution to implement immediately is having everyone at your branch sign a “non-disclosure” form. One of the reasons I was as successful as I was, and for as long as I was, was in great part due to the fact that I had at one time dated a teller. I knew about bait money, dye packs, second drawers, tracking devices, when money was counted, etc. Little did she know at the time that she was providing me with valuable information that I would later utilize to be a successful bank and credit union robber. Have all your employees sign a “non-disclosure” form indicating that they will share with no one – family included – the policies of your institution surrounding security, procedures, training, etc. The potential robbers out there have enough information. Do not provide them with anything additional they can use against you.
Troy Evans is a professional speaker and author. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.