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Southern California no longer bank-robbery capital

  • Associated Press
  • March 22, 2014 - 4:15 PM

LOS ANGELES — Southern California used to be known as the "Bank Robbery Capital of the World."

Not anymore.

The number of robberies has declined, part of a larger trend that has seen crime rates fall across the nation, the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/1pm8sDu ) reported in Saturday's editions.

There were 212 bank robberies last year — the lowest since the 1960s — in a seven-county region overseen by the FBI's Los Angeles office.

At the height of the robbery spree in the early 1990s, the region saw 2,641 bank heists. During the worst year in 1992, more than two dozen Los Angeles banks were looted in a single day.

The drop "definitely has exceeded my expectations," said former agent Bill Rehder, who retired in 1999 after supervising bank-robbery investigations for two decades.

Better security at banks such as bulletproof acrylic glass has made it harder for bandits to get access to money, authorities said. They also credit the ability to make high-resolution images of robbers available to the public through the Internet.

Some would-be robbers may rethink whether hitting a bank is worth it because the haul is not as great as it used to be. The average heist in the U.S. in 2003 yielded more than $10,000. In 2011, the average gain was just over $7,500, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, convicted robbers are slapped with stricter sentences. Each count of bank robbery carries a maximum of 20 years and 25 years for armed robbery under federal law.

With bank robberies declining, the FBI's LA office no longer has dedicated agents investigating. Bank heists are now handled by agents in the violent crime squad.

Rehder recalled the days when he designed fax cover sheets that bore the phrase "Bank Robbery Capital of the World."

"It was the most action-packed squad we had," he said. "I got as big an adrenaline pump out of (investigating) as these guys do planning and pulling off robberies."

© 2014 Star Tribune