Mon, Feb 12, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Wave of US heists puts new breed of bandits in spotlight

THE OBSERVER , NEW YORK

The names may have changed, but the grand tradition of American bank robbers like Machine Gun Kelly, John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson is alive and well and enjoying a revival. Now meet the Paparazzi Bandit, Panama Jack and the Harry Caray Bandit, who robs banks dressed as a much-loved American sports announcer.

But the criminals are no laughing matter. New statistics reveal that the US is suffering a wave of bank robberies, as many other crimes have fallen in number over the past decade. Many large cities reported a huge spike in bank robberies last year: Los Angeles has been dubbed the "bank robbery capital of America," with 470 last year. Chicago had 284 heists, up from 2005's previous record of 240. Dallas and Washington both saw bank robberies double last year.

The crime wave has left the FBI and city police departments baffled. One theory is that the proliferation of bank branches in store-front chains has made easy targets for wannabe criminals.

Certainly banks have always presented a tempting target for America's criminals. The first bank robbery on US soil is thought to have been in Philadelphia in 1798, when a team of thieves hit the Bank of Pennsylvania and made off with cash worth US$1.8 million in today's terms. Since then, bank robbers have never looked back.

Bank robbery carries a 25-year prison sentence and most heists do not net much cash.

Though 284 banks were robbed in Chicago last year, the total haul was US$4 million -- just $US14,000 a robbery. It seems that in modern America bank robbing is a crime that does pay.

But not very much.

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