In a recent AP article Scott Nowinski, an FBI representative said that bank robberies in the state of Tennessee are on the rise in comparison to 2000. Here in Memphis, where two separate fatalities have occurred in the last year during bank robberies, those statistics seem true.
According to Steve Anthony, the FBI supervisory special agent for violent crimes in the West Tennessee area and member of a special multi-county and city violent crime task force, those statistics are not the case in Memphis.
ÒIn the Memphis Metropolitan area, actually since 1997, we have had a steady decrease in bank robberies,Ó says Anthony. ÒFrom 90 bank robberies in 1997 to 62 in 1998, to 50 in 1999, to 41 last year. As of right now weÕve had 21. This time last year we had 30. WeÕre down another 30 percent right now.Ó
Anthony attributes the drop to a number of factors. ÒFirst and foremost is the community involvement,Ó he says. ÒThat receives the most credit, in particular the Crimestoppers unit. Especially with the violent robberies, people are not going to stand and let others be victim to these kinds of senseless acts.Ó
Also, Anthony and his group works closely with area banks ÒThe banking community has been very cooperative. We train some with them and we discuss security matters and such.Ó However, Anthony does emphasize that while the FBI can make suggestions to be banks, Òthey are a business. All we can do is to recommend to make sure they have good cameras, good quality video if that is what they are going to do, preferably 35 millimeters. We ask that they have alarms and other security devices such as dye packs. All we can do is meet regularly and suggest.Ó
Anthony also attributes the lowering robbery rate to his group. ÒIn some small way, we give credit to the agency and the task force that had foresight in 1997, when the robberies hit a peak,Ó Anthony says. ÒThe heads of the Memphis police department and the Shelby County sheriffÕs department, and now the Collierville police department came up with a unified front. One group of investigators that work together day in and day out that can handle the leads. The credit goes around.Ó
The most salient affect of the task force is in catching the criminals. Anthony says that its efforts led to the quick capture of the most recent robbers, William O. Maxwell, Terrance Johnson, Jr., and Aaron Haynes, who during their July 23 robbery of a local Union Planters left bank guard James Earl Jones with a bullet wound in the face and bank customer Sheryl White dead. ÒIt is a terrible incident,Ó Anthony says. ÒIt rallied our task force, it rallied the community. It pushed us forward to say that weÕre not going to let this happen. I have been doing this for many years and whenever you hear over your radio that shots have been fired and someone has been injured. ItÕs hard to describe. ItÕs a tragic thing. YouÕre pumped up inside. In the last case, the task force literally worked 24 hours a day until that was solved in two days. WeÕre going to continue to respond like that and weÕre going to do our best not to rest until the people responsible are put behind bars.Ó
Still, Anthony acknowledges that such high profile crimes scare customers and bank personnel alike. He says ÒWhen you have an instant when on September 18 of last year a 79 year old lady is murdered senselessly and when you have this past July 23 when a guard is shot in the face and a customer is killed, it does come to the forefront that bank robbery, by its very essence, is a violent crime. Bad things tend to happen when a robbery has been committed.Ó
And despite MemphisÕ lower than average robbery statistics, ÒWe are, unfortunately, the only city where a customer have been killed in a bank for the last two years. WeÕre not happy with that at all. When you have an instant like that it raises the concern for safety and what we are doing to catch these people and hopefully help prevent the robberies.Ó