The Houston FBI Bank Robbery Task Force has been busy investigating the rash of robberies committed. A man known as the "bicycle bandit" is suspected in at least six robberies, the latest one at the Comerica Bank in NW Houston earlier this week. He fled on foot, but the same man is suspected of using a bicycle to get away after robbing other banks in the area.
FBI agent Shauna Dunlap says last month there were 25 bank robberies in the task force area, a record for a one month period.
"Up until the end of August, the number of robberies for the entire year was 92, while last year we had the same number of robberies during that same time period. January of '09 to August 31st of '09, we also had 92 robberies. So while we had a record for the month of August, we're still sort of running neck-and-neck with the same robberies we had last year."
Dunlap says a bank robbery is a very high risk activity that requires a degree of aggressiveness.
"We're not seeing any escalation in violence; although, in one last week there was a gunshot fired, so that always is concerning. But all of these individuals that are committing these robberies, we consider them to be armed and dangerous, and obviously we have great concern that they're out there committing these bank robberies in our territory. We've got some great photographs of them that we have been releasing them to the public. They're on our website. We encourage folks to take a look at them and give us a call if you know who they are."
Olivia Solis is with the Texas Bankers Association in Austin. She says the bad economic times could be fueling the unusual spike in bank robberies.
"We still have drug users trying to fuel their drug habits, people on hard times trying to make money, others that that's just their career and our goal is to catch them before they continue."
Some say the modern, customer-friendly design of banks, with easy access to tellers and cash, is too tempting for robbers. Solis says lending institutions try to stay one step ahead of any criminal activity. She says bankers often huddle with law enforcement to discuss the latest trends in security.
"We also have a Texas Bankers Foundation and its funded by the bankers themselves, and we offer robbery rewards. Throughout the year, we'll get calls from the FBI or from banks that want us to put up some reward money to help catch those perpetrators that they're having a hard time catching."
FBI Agent Shauna Dunlap says a helpful incentive is a standing 5-thousand dollar reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction.
"If you find yourself in this type of situation where you witness a bank robbery, we ask that just be a good witness. Remember what you saw, take a license plate down if you can, and call police as soon as possible, but don't take action on your own."