During a 25-hour span this week, robbers hit four South Florida banks.
The mini-crime spree capped what appeared to be a busy season of bank heists over the past three months. Preying on local institutions have been crooks with such colorful monikers as Boca Raton’s Brazen Bandit; the Sundown Bandits, who since Christmas Eve have hit six banks from Boca Raton to Miami; or the Old Man Bandit, who is serving 13 years for 21 bank jobs over 22 months from Boynton Beach to Miami-Dade.
Then there was the motorcycle-in-the-lobby caper last month in West Palm Beach, an apparent inside job. And the two rare female bank robbers, whose heists both failed.
Given the wobbly economy, which has seen legions of unemployed, bank robbery may appear to be on the rise as a desperate but viable alternative to poverty.
Not so, according to law enforcement statistics. National figures show a downward trend in bank robberies, while the number of South Florida bank robberies essentially has flatlined in recent years.
“You would think that with the economy, we’d have a lot more than what we’re having, but it’s pretty consistent with what we had 10 years ago,” said Broward Sheriff’s Detective Mark Copley, who currently specializes in robbery.
“It’s the same thing as any general crime, it has its peaks and its lows,” he said. “You could go a couple of weeks without a bank robbery, then in one day you get hit with three of them.”
Ten years ago, the Sheriff’s Office handled 23 bank robberies; this year’s tally is 17, Copley said.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has seen even fewer. “For us right now, we’ve had maybe two this year,” spokeswoman Teri Barbera said. “Robberies in general are down 23 percent.”
Both sheriff’s offices only count cases in their jurisdictions; cities maintain separate records.
But the FBI, which tallies all South Florida bank robberies, also sees no steep rise in the often-dramatic capers.
FBI bank robbery supervisor David Beall said that in fiscal year 2008-09 there were 113 bank robberies from Key West to Fort Pierce. The number dropped to 83 in fiscal year 2009-10, and in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, there were 116 bank robberies.
“In the last two weeks we’ve seen an increase,” Beall said. But he pointed out that two high-grossing films about bank robbery have been released during that time, “The Town” and “Takers.”
“Bank robberies get attention, not only in the press, but in Hollywood,” he said.
Nationally, bank robberies dropped about 18 percent in 2009, for a total of 5,500 heists. The number of bank robbers charged in federal court also reached a 10-year low in 2009.
Locally, there were four such robberies from Tuesday through Wednesday:
About 10 a.m. Tuesday, a man wearing a red hat and blue shirt fled on foot after robbing a Bank of America in the 5000 block of Biscayne Boulevard in Miami. He’s at large.
Later that afternoon, a woman handed a teller a note demanding money at the Chase Bank on West Hillsboro Boulevard in Deerfield Beach. Karen Hovenac, 39, who lived a block away, was arrested shortly afterward when she changed her clothes at a nearby Publix.
In Oakland Park, about 9 a.m. Wednesday, a man robbed a BankAtlantic branch on North Andrews Avenue. Jonathan Greaser was arrested within minutes while walking about three blocks away.
Also Wednesday, about 11 a.m., two armed men in dark clothing stormed and robbed another BankAtlantic branch on Fairway Drive. They are still free.
Given the public nature of their crime, under the eyes of video cameras and witnesses, most bank robbers are caught, police say. And big rewards can stir a tipster’s greed.
“When somebody says they robbed a bank, somebody will call in an anonymous tip,” Beall said.
Some South Florida banks give robbers cash implanted with tracking chips. There also are regional task forces dedicated to nabbing bank robbers.