Spike in bank heists raises questions about economy, geography | TheUnion.com

Spike in bank heists raises questions about economy, geography

Grass Valley Police were pursuing leads and searching houses Friday in the wake of this week’s robbery of the Wells Fargo Bank inside the Raley’s grocery store, Capt. Dave Remillard said.

While there have been four bank heists in Nevada County in less than three months – compared to only three in the five years prior – bank and law enforcement officials said Friday the reasons why are unclear.

Despite a poor economy and unemployment at its highest level in many years, the FBI’s figures for state and federal crime do not reflect a spike in bank robberies since 2005.

But Nevada County is seeing its highest unemployment in 20 years – joblessness in the county was 11.4 percent in December, the most recent months figures were available from the California Employment Development Department.

That could play a role locally, Remillard said, and the state’s plan to release prisoners before their terms are served could add to the local trend.

“We’re not that remote anymore,” Remillard said.

Robbers have hit Wells Fargo on Thursday and three branches of the Bank of the West in Grass Valley and Truckee since Dec. 22.

“I’d like to have an explanation, but I don’t,” said Sheriff Keith Royal. “It could be an indication of the economy or Nevada County being an opportunistic place.”

Across the country, bank robberies “may be up in some areas, but overall, there’s been no significant increase, if any,” said Bill Carter, an FBI spokesman in Washington, D.C.

National bank robbery figures are relatively flat for 2005 and beyond, according to the FBI. There were 6,748 in 2005, 6,985 in 2006, 5,933 in 2007, and 6,700 in 2008.

The FBI only has national figures through the first nine months of 2009 and is still compiling last year’s final quarter.

The first three quarters showed 3,960 national bank robberies, well below the average of 4,935 for the first nine months of 2005 through 2008.

California figures from the FBI show 972 bank heists in 2005, 915 in 2006, 785 in 2007 and 912 in 2008. The state saw 623 in the first nine months of last year, which – again – was below the average of 666 for the first three quarters of 2005 through 2008.

At Bank of the West, “our experience of bank robberies is actually going down,” said Vice President for Communications John Stafford, although he had no hard statistics available.

Nevada County’s recent rash of hold-ups could be caused by robbers from out of the area who think they are in a safe, rural space to conduct crime, Stafford said.

On the other hand “it may very well be local folks,” he said.

Bank of the West has the same policy followed at most other banks and stores: Employees let robbers have what they want without any interference, Stafford said.

Other security measures are in place and are increased in areas that suffer a rash of robberies, Stafford added.

While bank robbery trends are inconclusive, authorities are searching for two suspects in the four recent local robberies.

Remillard said he hoped people recognize the photo of Thursday’s robber at Raley’s.

Anyone who does should call (530) 477-4600 and ask for a shift supervisor so the message does not get buried on an answering machine, Remillard said.

Authorities also are looking for the person who hit Bank of the West on Taylorville Road in Grass Valley on Dec. 22 and the Truckee branch on Feb. 18. They suspect it is the same person.

The man suspected in the Feb. 2 Bank of the West heist was arrested this week in San Bernardino County after trying to enter a U.S. Marine Corps base with a weapon.

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail dmoller@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4237.

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