My sons are involved with an organization called Boys Team Charity that supports a variety of charitable organizations in Arizona like St. Mary’s Food Bank, Special Olympics, Home Fur Good and others. I recently went to the fall general meeting where the entire chapter gathers to kick off the new season and was surprised that the guest speaker was in banking – literally. Or maybe I should say “in banks.” This is the brief story of Troy Evans, who I had the pleasure of hearing speak.
Despite having a fairly normal childhood growing up in Arizona, Troy’s life took a turn for the worse. For 15 years, Troy was a drug addict, drug dealer, crook. As one knows, drugs cost money, and what better place to get money than the neighborhood bank or credit union? In 1992 Troy embarked on the bank robbing phase of his career, which involved five armed robberies at banks and credit unions in three states. Troy apparently was an equal opportunity purloiner and didn’t care whether or not credit unions paid taxes.
As all good things must come to an end, Troy was apprehended by the FBI when an ex-girlfriend called into Crime Stopper. He was sentenced to 13 years at the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colo., where he enjoyed the urbane company and quick wit of such notorious criminals as Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. The stories of prison life Troy told the Boys Team Charity audience were bone chilling. Because Troy had nearby family that paid him regular visits, he was “approached” in his cell late one night by three prisoners who were part of a gang with a request that his visitors start smuggling drugs into the prison – a situation that almost led to Troy losing his life. Until his speech, I never knew that a pork chop bone sharpened on concrete can make the perfect shiv.
Prison life often leads to the “hardening” of criminals who are surrounded for years on end by violence, gangs, drugs and an utter sense of hopelessness. In some rare instances, it can lead to reflection and the desire to turn things around. Thankfully Troy chose the road less traveled and made a conscious decision that his time behind bars would not be wasted. Pursuing a four year degree was Troy’s saving grace; he secured his own funding through scholarships, grants and foundation assistance. After six months of applications, essays, begging and pleading, Troy landed his first scholarship for one class. That soon led to another, then another. When Troy was released, he left prison with a dual degree and a 4.0 GPA meriting placement on the Dean’s and President’s lists.
Today, Troy has made a full transformation by becoming a physical security consultant to FIs as well as a motivational speaker sharing his story of personal catharsis with audiences across the country. A là Frank Abagnale, Jr., the fraudster brought to life by Leonardo Dicaprio in Catch Me if You Can, Troy provides his real-life experience with robbery, apprehension and recovery to financial institutions across the country. As Troy likes to put it, he “lived in the mind of the enemy.”
As GonzoBanker looks to its 12th year, there have been articles covering practically all things banking. However, I was unable to locate any articles in the archive on bank robbery prevention best practices so I figured it was high time to hit this most practical of topics. Troy was kind enough to provide some of his insight and best practices focused on decreasing the chance of a financial institution being targeted for a robbery; increasing the chances of a quick apprehension; and aiding in a speedy and full recovery of missing loot. So read on, and enjoy.
Contrary to Hollywood’s take on the matter, bank robbery is not committed by glam criminals like Bonnie and Clyde [or Joe Blake and Terry Lee Collins – see Bandits with Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton – fabulous (Scott Sommer editorial)]. The people who are committing these crimes are strung out on drugs, have a gambling debt to pay, or are about to lose their homes to foreclosure. Robbery is very much an act of desperation. Wherever drugs are available, gambling occurs, and unemployment is prevalent, the crime of robbery will occur.
That being the case, how do you “robber-proof” your institutions? It starts with the support of senior management and the creation of an environment that a potential robber finds unpalatable.
Having met and interviewed more than 300 convicted bank and credit union robbers, I have identified some common threads. The first is that every institution is cased. No potential robber comes into a town, approaches the very first financial institution they come across and makes a decision to rob that branch. The potential criminal is likely to take at least one of these steps:
The bottom line is that every institution is cased to some extent and employees need to be trained to be on the alert for suspicious activities.
The majority of the people that come into your institutions are “regulars.” It is the customers you have never seen before that should cause you worry. Consider a policy that if employee see an individual they do not recognize (and if they are not in the middle of some transaction), approach that individual, extend a hand, and say, “Thank you for visiting our branch. What can we do for you today?” That alone may keep the potential robber from choosing your institution. The last thing a criminal wants is someone looking them in the eye and getting a good description. Your legitimate customer will love it as fantastic customer service; potential robbers will deem that as reason enough to head down the road.
The second common thread I found in interviewing convicted robbers was the importance of a male presence in the lobby. The potential robber fears someone who may play “Joe Hero” and try to thwart their efforts. I walked into dozens of institutions fully intending to commit a robbery only to walk up to the teller, hand over a $10 bill and ask for a roll of quarters based on male presence. If you are unable to keep a male presence in your institution consistently, make sure you have a male presence on Fridays from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Fifty percent plus of all robberies occur during this time.
If you’ve done all that you can to prevent a robbery from occurring yet your institution is targeted, “be aware but don’t stare.” You have no idea what type of a person you are dealing with, and you do not want to challenge or agitate the individual. Don’t stare, but look for distinguishing marks or characteristics that make that individual stand out such as scars and tattoos. When I was apprehended, the FBI told me that my cases had been filed away as unsolvable. Although they had photos and ran them in local newspapers and on TV stations, the police failed to receive a tip on me because I went outside my own “backyard.” I could have been any one of 10 million people residing in this country being of slightly above-average height but with no notable features. They also had fingerprints from the notes I had passed but, because I had never been in trouble with the law, they found no matches.
What might have happened if the tellers involved in those robberies would have noticed that I had one ear that sticks out a little further than the other, or that the nail on my right-hand middle finger is crooked due to the fact that it was cut off when I was young and never healed correctly after being reattached? If these details would have been broadcast along with the photos, maybe the hotel that evening could have recalled checking someone in who had an ear that stuck out, or perhaps the salesclerk would have recalled the guy who handed her a bill with a hand that had a crooked middle finger. The bottom line: taking notice of even the slightest distinguishing marks or characteristics and relaying that information to law enforcement greatly enhances the chances for a quick apprehension.
The first step to take immediately following a robbery is to lock the door. This eliminates the possibility of a hostage situation should the robber attempt to re-enter the institution after law enforcement arrives. Employees also should attempt to observe the robber’s route and means of escape and then relay that information immediately to law enforcement via phone. In addition, and just as importantly, each and every individual who was involved in the robbery should immediately (and not 10, 20, or 30 minutes later) write down every single detail, description and impression involving that robbery.
After my apprehension, and while going through trial, the most damaging testimony came from one teller who had taken it upon herself to immediately write down every description and detail that she could recall following the robbery – my hat and what kind it was; my sunglasses and what brand they were; my shirt and what was on it; my pants and what brand they were; and finally the brand and color of my shoes. When she took the stand and began describing these details (as I was apprehended with these items), my attorney leaned over and said, “You better take the plea they are offering, you will never overcome this testimony.” Make it policy at your financial institution that everyone involved in a robbery must immediately write down all impressions and descriptions they are able to recall.
Your frontline people are the most important and powerful robbery deterrent you have. These individuals can keep you from being targeted. Take a page out of the Wal-Mart book and make it a policy to meet and greet as many people as possible who come through your doors. You will end up pleasing your legitimate customers while scaring off potential robbers.
Because complacency can be your greatest enemy, I would encourage you to implement the following:
First, create a suspicious activities log. Supply every workstation with a journal or notebook – something within reach where a quick note can be written if that person sees something out of the ordinary or someone they do not recognize. Management should review these notebooks weekly, if not daily. If a pattern is detected, then your institution may have been cased for a robbery and appropriate measures can be taken.
Second, have all employees sign a “non-disclosure” form. One of the reasons I was successful as a bank and credit union robber was 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, and so forth. Little did she know at the time that she was providing me with valuable information that I would later utilize as a bank and credit union robber. Require all of your employees to sign a “non-disclosure” form indicating that they will not share with anyone (family included) the policies of your institution surrounding security, procedures, and training. Explain that if the information fell into the wrong hands, it could someday be used against them in a robbery situation.
The crew here at GonzoBanker would like to thank Troy for his life story and lessons learned – an interesting tale to say the least. If you have further questions of Troy, feel free to reach out:
All for now.