Monday, May 19, 2008

Are credit union robberies getting more violent?

MADISON, Wis. (5/19/08)--Are credit union robberies becoming more violent? That is difficult to answer, because robberies by nature are violent; the threat of violence is always there, according to a CUNA Mutual robbery expert.

The trend over the past few years with the use of weapons in credit union robberies is staying consistent, Vince Wagner, risk manager for CUNA Mutual Group, told News Now.

In 2006, 434 credit union robberies were reported to CUNA Mutual Group, with 246 (57%) involving a weapon, Wagner said. In 2007, 349 robberies were reported, with 179 (51%) involving a weapon.

"But based on media reports, it appears that perhaps weapons are being used more now, as opposed to just being displayed," he said, adding that CUNA Mutual doesn't make that distinction in the statistics it keeps.

"I want to emphasize that credit unions need to be cognizant of the possibilities of robbery and provide their staffs with training," Wagner said.

"The key thing to remember during a robbery is cooperate, cooperate, cooperate. Don't panic, remain calm, and get the robber out of the credit union as quickly as possible, because then there is less likelihood something will go wrong," he concluded.

Some incidents of violence with credit union robberies in the past year:
  • An armed man lined up eight credit union employees and one member in Fibre FCU, Longview, Wash., and pepper sprayed them all, then fled with a bag of cash Tuesday afternoon (Associated Press May 14).
  • An armed man entered Keesler FCU, Biloxi, Miss., and took two employees hostage, Tammy Brister, vice president of branch operations, told News Now (April 22). The man had several weapons, and the credit union was "extremely busy" at the time of the robbery, she added. Because he came to the credit union on foot, he forced the tellers into a car to escape. The three left the credit union, and after a high-speed chase, the car drove into a ditch and the robber was caught by police, Brister said. "The tellers are fine," she said. "No one was hurt physically."
  • A teller of a Charlotte, N.C., branch of Raleigh-based State Employees CU' was shot and seriously injured during a robbery in March (Charlotte Observer April 1).
  • A suspect involved with an attempted armed robbery and shootout at the Niles, Mich., branch of Berrien Teachers CU died in surgery at a local hospital in January. The suspect was allegedly shot during the attempted robbery the morning of Jan. 18 by a security guard. Two men entered the credit union and exchanged gunfire, both inside and outside of the credit union, with the guard. At least five shots were fired, police told the Tribune (Jan. 22).

Some other violent incidents at credit unions, not involving robberies:

  • A Concord, N.H., police officer was shot inside an under-construction branch of Granite State CU in May when another officer's gun discharged. The officer was treated and released from a local hospital. "We're glad nobody was seriously injured," Denise Caristi, president/CEO, Granite State CU, told News Now (May 5).
  • A Maine man who waved a chain saw over his head, revved it up to threaten passing motorists, and performed impromptu pruning of local shrubbery was eventually arrested at gunpoint near Howland Enfield CU. A local deputy sheriff and a Maine State Police Trooper took Lionel Dube, Jr., of Argyle, into custody. He was charged with criminal threatening, disorderly conduct and violation of bail conditions (Associated Press June 7).

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