SEATTLE (AP) - What's the best way to make a bank robber turn around and walk out the door empty-handed? Try a handshake and a smile.
Excessive friendliness is the key to the "Safecatch" system created by FBI Special Agent Larry Carr. The premise is that an overdose of courtesy will unnerve would-be robbers and get them to rethink the crime.
"If you're a legitimate customer, you think, 'This is the friendliest person I've met in my life.'
" 'If you're a bad guy, it scares the lights out of you," said Drew Ness, a vice-president of Bellevue-based First Mutual Bank, who advocates the approach.
Carr, who has taught the method to employees at 16 Washington banks over the last few years, credits the system in part for the drop in Seattle bank robberies from 80 in the first three months of 2006 to 44 during the same period this year. On Tuesday, he ran a training session for employees at a First Mutual branch in Seattle.
The method is a sharp contrast to the traditional training for bank employees confronted with a suspicious person, which advises not approaching the person, and at most, activating an alarm or dropping an exploding dye pack into the cash.
When a man walked into a First Mutual branch last year wearing garden gloves and sunglasses, manager Scott Taffera greeted him heartily, invited him to remove the glasses, and guided him to an equally friendly teller. The man eventually asked for a roll of quarters and left.
Carr said he suspects the man was the "Garden Glove Bandit," who robbed area banks between March 2004 and November 2006.
Carr stressed that employees should never put themselves in danger, and they should comply with any demands made by an armed robber.
I have not always been a decent, upstanding citizen. I am ashamed to say that as a teenager I had a career as a shoplifter. I stole many things from many stores in my "career," and I did it with a smile and a friendly handshake whenever I could. I would even go so far as to point out to the sales clerks the ripped-up packages I created when I took the item I wanted. I was bold, brazen and beyond being scared by anything like this.
And really, I was nothing special when it came to shoplifting.
So I personally think this program, while a good idea, won't deter many bank robbers. If you're going to rob a bank, a handshake won't stop you.
Eh, it might stop an extremely nervous first-timer or a stupid impulse crook. I would think that a bank robber who has a bunch of successful robberies under his belt is just going to think that his day went real easy if the bank manager cheerfully shook his hand while handing him a bag of money.
I believe MAD TV created a skit based entirely upon this concept.
I agree with Knapp's opinion entirely. Once someone goes into a bank with the intention of robbing it, then in their mind, they have passed the point of no return. If they are robbing the bank as a result of dire circumstances in their life, then walking out of the bank won't erase those problems. Most people build up a lot of nerve before doing something such as this, so having someone smile at you and politely shake your hand will have absolutely no chance of changing your mindset.
I worked as a teller at a bank last summer and that was one of the first thing they taught us. We were supposed to look at everyone as they came in and smile and say "I'll be right with you", especially if they look suspicious. It's an interesting concept and I see how it could deter robbers that are unsure of themselves. But I can't see it stopping anyone that is actually good at what they do.
I was personally involved in a bank robbery a few months back and had a gun pointed in my face. It's pretty hard to shake hands with someone when they are telling you to open the vault (I had a suit on). The guy was pretty polite though I will give him that. When he saw that I had my head sideways on the floor instead of "nose down" he called me "sir" when he asked me to "please" lie face first on the ground.