Third bank robbed, preparedness stressed

BY ABE TEKIPPE | JULY 21, 2009 7:15 AM

An armed man reportedly robbed American Bank & Trust on Monday morning, becoming at least the third such incident in Johnson County this month.

At 9:05 a.m., Iowa City police received a call about a suspicious person lingering in the area of the bank, 551 Westbury Drive.

Two minutes later, an employee at the bank called 911 to report the establishment had been robbed. A man allegedly had displayed a handgun and demanded cash.

The bank immediately closed; representatives declined to comment.

Authorities at the local and national levels say it is difficult to prevent such crimes.

“As much as you’d like to fortify a bank, it’s just not a feasible thing to do,” Ed Reinhold, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Midwest office in Omaha, told The Daily Iowan.

Installing security features, such as bulletproof glass windows, is expensive and may be off-putting to customers, Reinhold said.

“If you build a fortress, you’re probably going to end up with fewer customers, because it won’t be welcoming to them,” he said.

But there is a cheaper, less intimidating alternative: preparedness.

Reinhold said the FBI works with banks to educate employees about what they should do during and after a robbery. These include complying with robbers’ demands, activating alarms if possible, and getting the robber out of the building as soon as possible, locking the door afterwards.

“We, for a long time, have believed that [robberies] are very, very difficult to actually prevent,” said Lynn Rowan, the market president at Iowa City’s West Bank.

Located at 1910 Lower Muscatine Road, the bank was robbed July 10.

Because he believes this month’s robbery — the first at any West Bank branch in “a couple of years” — was handled “exactly as it should have been,” he said, bank officials are going to continue doing what they have been doing: training for bank robberies, usually four times per year.

Rowat said bank employees are instructed to make sure that everyone in the building is safe, that the robber gets as little money as possible, and that police are notified as soon as the robber leaves the premises.

He declined to go into further detail for security reasons.

Nationally, bank crime numbers are holding steady, decreasing 1 percent between 2007 and 2008, according to the FBI. The FBI includes robbery, burglary, extortion, and larceny in its categorization of “bank crime.”

Most of those crimes were bank robberies, 32 of which took place in Iowa.

In the first quarter of 2009, there were 1,542 bank crimes reported to the FBI, down roughly 6 percent from the same time period in 2008, according to a second report the bureau released last week.

In Iowa City, specific numbers of reported bank robberies were not immediately available because they are lumped together with other robberies.

Authorities are still looking for the man who allegedly robbed American Bank & Trust. An FBI agent from Cedar Rapids is assisting local authorities with the investigation, something Reinhold said is not unusual.

Witnesses described the robber as a man in his 20s, dressed in a black hoodie over a light blue shirt, black pants, and black Nike tennis shoes.

The suspect fled westbound on foot before being picked up by a gold car — possibly a Toyota Camry — occupied by two other men, police reports show. The car turned onto Rochester Avenue and drove off in an unknown direction.

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