Bank robberies are becoming less frequent nationwide, and Augusta area holdups mirror that trend.
There were eight bank robberies reported in Richmond, Columbia and Aiken counties and in the city of Aiken in 2012, down from at least 22 in 2009.
Authorities credit advances in security and instant access to information for the decline. According to the FBI, bank holdups have dropped nearly every year since 2003, when nearly 7,500 robberies were reported nationwide with $77 million taken. In 2011 – the last complete year for data – about 5,000 banks reported robberies with $38 million stolen.
Local law enforcement officers say bank robberies have become rare since the 2009 spike in Richmond, Columbia and Aiken counties.
“It felt like we were the bank robbery capital of the world that year,” Aiken County sheriff’s Capt. Troy Elwell said.
Since then, the numbers have become more “normal,” he said. No bank robberies have been reported to the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office since a 2009 incident that turned deadly. In July 2009, police caught up with the armed suspects after the robbery of the Atomic Road First Citizen’s Bank.
After a chase into Jackson, one of the three suspects fired shots at a Jackson police officer who returned fire, fatally wounding one of them.
There was an attempted bank robbery of Beech Island Credit Union in Aiken County on July 20, 2011, but Elwell said employees were able to thwart the holdup by using a door-locking policy put in place in recent years.
In that case police said Francis Smith, then 23, tried to enter the credit union on Old Jackson Highway, but was denied entry after employees said they saw a woman who appeared to be armed and putting on a bandana and sunglasses before coming inside.
Later, police were called to First Citizens Bank on Atomic Road where they discovered Smith acting very nervous and talking to a loan officer. She later admitted her intentions of robbing the banks and committing a previous robbery.
“I don’t know if it’s because of that one’s violent ending (in 2009) or not,” Elwell said of the decrease in bank robberies.
He said it could also be the longer punishment that comes from being convicted of robbing a bank. In comparison, robbing a store might be more appealing.
Richmond County had the most reported bank robberies locally with five, but the numbers do not appear to be increasing. Sheriff’s investigators responded to four in 2010 and 2011 and five in 2012. Arrests have been made in six of the cases.
Sheriff’s Lt. Blaise Dresser said they believe two of the three unsolved 2012 robberies, both at Queensborough bank, 2550 Tobacco Road, are connected, but a lack of evidence has left the cases open.
One month into 2013, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office is the only area law enforcement agency to report a bank robbery. On Jan. 5, deputies caught Andrew Nelson, 31, of Martinez, when a dye pack exploded after the robbery of a Wells Fargo branch on Furys Ferry Road.
The FBI credits dye packs, advances in surveillance technology, armed special duty officers and other deterrents with curbing the crime.
Last month, the FBI launched bankrobbers.fbi.gov. The Web site features holdups across the country on an interactive map complete with photos and suspect descriptions.
“This Web site is an operational tool that will help law enforcement identify and prosecute bank robbers more quickly with the public’s help,” Jason DiJoseph, who runs the FBI bank robbery program, said in a statement.
Naming serial suspects with nicknames such as “The Limping Bandit” or “Scarecrow” also increases the likelihood a suspect will be caught, authorities say.
From 2006 to 2009, the Limping Bandit, or Cecil Stephen Haire, of Douglas, Ga., struck 23 banks, including ones in Aiken and Edgefield, S.C., according to authorities.
David Jackson Jr., or the masked Scarecrow, named for his similarity to a Batman character, struck banks while out on bond for a 2007 North Augusta bank robbery, authorities say..