Rash of bank robberies doesn’t alarm police, FBI
August 19, 2014
By Peter Clark
Issaquah police and the FBI said they see four banks being robbed in the past six months as more of a cycle than a crime wave.
So far this year, KeyBank on Northwest Gilman Boulevard has been robbed three times and Chase Bank, also on Northeast Gilman Boulevard, was robbed once. Police believe the same man, who they’ve dubbed the Summertime Heat Robber, might be behind the Feb. 22, June 25 and July 11 KeyBank robberies. So far, officials have not arrested any suspects.
“It’s an increase,” Cmdr. Stan Conrad said. “But there are times when robberies pick up and times when they are down. Now, they are just down.”
Chief Scott Behrbaum agreed.
“Historically, we’ve had bank robberies in our city,” he said. “Last year, we didn’t have that many, but we’ve had years where we’re close to twice the current number.”
Casting a wider net
The Issaquah Police Department shares investigative duties for bank robberies with the Seattle FBI office and a regional task force.
“The FBI are the main drivers,” Behrbaum said. “The first objective after a robbery is making sure the people are safe. We bring in the FBI after that. Interviewing witnesses, surveying the scene is more of a joint operation.”
The FBI has a Safe Streets Task Force to assist with regional investigations. It is made up of representatives from other law enforcement departments to be a resource for those that may not have certain capabilities.
“The task force means that we can help out when others request it,” Ayn Sandalo Dietrich, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Seattle Division, said. “We can help pull information from other departments. It all just depends on whether they ask for help or not.”
Issaquah Detective Sgt. Chris Wilson is leading the local investigation on the Aug. 4 Chase Bank robbery and said the measure of FBI involvement changes with every robbery.
“It kind of depends on the situation and whether local law enforcement finds evidence or gathers a lead in the initial investigation.” Wilson said.
With this year’s robberies, he said the department has played a big part.
“On this specific case,” Wilson said, referring to the Summertime Heat Robber, “we’ve been pretty heavily involved.”
Due to the limited nature of resources, Conrad said FBI involvement allows an investigation to cast a wider net, particularly when multiple robberies occur.
“There’s more than one bank robber out there,” he said. “We’re sharing information with them and they’re working for us.”
Dietrich said the FBI and the task force are happy to help local investigations.
“We try to make it a partnership,” she said.
Behrbaum said the recent rash of robberies did not indicate an overly concerning turn in local crime. Rather, he said, Issaquah remains a safe place in the region.
“Walking around in town, you’re not going to have a stranger try to rob you,” he said. “Every year, there is an individual or a group working the Puget Sound region performing bank robberies.”
While the Issaquah crime rate for robberies rose by 16.7 percent from 2012 to 2013, the number really only moved from six to seven, respectively, according to The Crime In Washington 2013 Annual Report, compiled by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.
“If you look at our rate compared to the city of Seattle’s rate, relatively we really do not have that many,” Behrbaum said. “Put into perspective, we are pretty low in crime.”
Dietrich said the number of bank robberies in the region as a whole have remained average as well.
“Anecdotally, I don’t feel like we’re any more up than usual,” she said. “There are fluctuations, and there seems to be a lot of variety.”
She did add the number of KeyBank robberies seemed unusual.
“Three times with the same bank is notable,” Dietrich said. “It’s not unusual to hit the same bank again, but usually when I see that, they have other banks they rob as well.”
In terms of prevention, citizens may help more than a bank’s security system.
“The banks already have a lot of procedures and practices in place,” Behrbaum said. “We always encourage the general public to be aware of their surroundings.”
Dietrich also said bystanders could provide the most assistance in robbery prevention.
“We do emphasize over and over again the importance of being a good witness,” she said. “Be observant. Maybe they can give us that one clue that would help apprehend them.”
Behrbaum said the Issaquah Police Department has had similar experiences.
“We’ve had some people notice some suspicious behavior at a bank and call it in, and that’s helped us apprehend them,” he said. “We’ve had those.”
Above everything else, he asked that citizens stay alert.
“That’s the one message we’d like to get out there,” Behrbaum said. “Pay attention.”