Law enforcement leaders and officials with the N.C. Bankers Association held their annual bank robbery news conference Dec. 5 near a place where the criminal careers of convicted robbers end or are at least derailed: Central Prison on Western Boulevard.
Against the backdrop of the barbed-wire-enclosed prison walls, they touted success in reducing the number of bank robberies in recent years and warned those who might consider trying it.
“If you want a room right here in this nice place in the background, go right ahead and rob a bank and we’ll see if we can find a room for you,” Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said, as a sentry clasping a rifle paced in a guard tower behind him.
Banking officials said bank robberies and other financial crimes have continuously decreased since 2009. Terry Huskey, who heads the state bankers association’s security committee, noted that the FBI reported 91 bank robberies in North Carolina through Nov. 30 this year, the lowest number in 10 years. Compared with 172 for the same period in 2009, this year’s figure represents a drop of nearly 43 percent.
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The year with the most bank robberies in North Carolina in the past decade was 2004, with 267.
“Although the frequency of bank robberies continue to decrease for the most part, it is critical we do everything we can to bring this number lower and lower year after year,” Huskey said.
Huskey credited the decline to the training of banking employees to identify potential security issues and other “measures and counter-measures,” along with “the relentless pursuit” of bank robbery suspects, followed by rigorous prosecution in the courts.
But not every bank robber is caught and convicted. Huskey said the average clearance rate for bank robbery arrests nationally hovers between 60 and 65 percent.
Harrison said his deputies are still on the lookout for a bank robber nicknamed the “Eyes Only Bandit.”
The man is wanted by the FBI for bank robberies over the past two years in Zebulon, Spring Hope and Franklinton, where he robbed a First Citizens bank on North Main Street in February and March.
Harrison said the robber is known as the “Eyes Only Bandit” because he covers his head with a hooded jacket and wears a mask that leaves only his eyes visible.
Investigators think the suspect is a light-complexioned African-American man, between 20 and 35 years old. He has a medium build and stands between 5 feet 8 inches and 5 feet 10 inches tall, Harrison said.
Huskey said the banking association is concerned with all financial crimes but is particularly interested in thwarting armed robberies.
“Other financial crimes don’t pose a threat to employees and customers,” he said.
Investigators ask anyone with information about the “Eyes Only Bandit” to call East Wake CrimeStoppers at 919-366-2746.
The Bankers Association offers a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone who robs a North Carolina bank or savings institution. The phone number for the NCBA hotline is 800-209-2293.