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Credit Union Robbery Prevention - A Review of Best Practices for Prevention and Employee Safety


     By Thomas J. Lekan Security Consulting LLC Premise Security and Violent Crime Expert Witness

PhoneCall Thomas J. Lekan CPP at (440) 879-8664


The robbery of a credit union is a traumatic event no matter if it is by passing a note (note passer) or a more violent robbery like a take-over or morning glory robbery. Robbery prevention should be a priority for each credit union office. Many robberies can be prevented by following accepted best practices and adherence to proven countermeasures.
The robbery of a credit union is a traumatic event no matter if it is by passing a note (note passer) or or a more violent robbery like a take-over or morning glory robbery. Robbery of a financial services office such as a credit union is also not going away. In some areas of the country it has actually increased. The aftermaths of such a robbery creates uneasiness and sometimes fear to employees and customers who may have been at the credit union at the time of the robbery. Unfortunately, a robbery event can also result in litigation and lost time at work for employees. All of this should make robbery prevention a priority for each credit union office. And yes, many, if not most, robberies can be prevented by following accepted best practices and adherence to proven countermeasures. Additionally annual training that is meaningful and taught by professionals will help to mitigate the affects of a robbery and enhance everyone’s safety. Let’s explore factors that will contribute to preventing robberies and increase employee and customer safety in the event a robbery takes place.

A most significant robbery prevention practice is making eye contact and greeting each person who enters the credit union. Although this may seem trivial, to a robber one of the most important items is not to be recognized or be subject to a description later. Many financial offices are configured so that each person who enters the credit union is greeted by a person who faces the entry door. Robbers that I have interviewed after they were caught have told me numerous times they chose the place to rob specifically because no one noticed them, looked at them, or greeted them. The robbers said that had they been noticed they might have chosen another place to rob. In some financial services offices a large monitor and closed circuit television system is used and placed in such a manner that a person entering can see that their image has been captured into the system. Keeping the windows clear of obstructions so that you can see into and out of the credit union is also important. Remember, robbers generally “case” the place they are going to rob prior to the robbery, often several times. The more you make it uncomfortable for them and they begin to believe they may have been recognized, the better for you and your credit union.

We are all aware that the safety of our employees and customers is the most important factor in a robbery. Robbers know this also, and they know that you will give them money. This may be the reason that they choose credit unions with sophisticated closed circuit systems and alarms over convenience stores and gas stations. This is also a reason that robbery behavior training is so important to safety. The training should focus on remaining calm, following instructions of the robber carefully, not resisting or refusing to give the money, and being very careful after a robbery not to follow the robber out of the credit union. Robbers want the money quickly and to make their getaway. Again, from interviews I have done of robbers, even the ones who have done harm, their intention was to get in get the money and get out. Sudden movements, a customer who does not comply, or someone who thinks they can be a hero can cause a robber to do harm, even extreme harm. So the second most important practice is to train employees to remain calm, survive the robbery by following instructions, and never take chances with anyone’s safety. Just a note, during a robbery it is best not to make eye contact with the robber, rather follow instructions by keeping your hands in view and your eyes somewhat downward. You may be able to note a tattoo or distinctive clothing by following this practice.

It is very important that all credit unions have a security assessment regularly. As noted in the ABA Robbery Toolbox of 2003 , a security risk assessment is a first step in robbery deterrence and prevention. It is further stated that depending on the level of risk and crime rate that assessments can range from every year to every other year in lower crime areas. The frequency and manner of assessment is a matter of choice however a professional unbiased and independent is the preferred method. This is preferred because in litigation matters an independent review can withstand challenges better. The security practices, countermeasures, training, policies as well as security awareness are subject to review and challenge resulting in recommendations and capital planning. The assessment should include crime rate and statistics, history of robbery in the area of the credit union, police response and patrols and special security measures such as security guards or greeters that are used.

It is very important if security guards are used to determine the training, post orders, and actions that the security guard is expected to perform. Security guards can be a deterrent to crime in general if they perform according to set standards and training. A guard can also be an enhancement to customer service if they are trained in hospitality and awareness to the customer and the products. I have also recommended to the businesses that I work with to make sure the guards do not have a fixed post inside the credit union but rather spend an equal amount of time in the parking lot and surrounding areas observing the area and looking for suspicious behavior. As mentioned in this article initially, making eye contact and observation are key components of a credit union security and robbery prevention program.

A very important procedure for the prevention of ‘morning glory” or closing take over robberies is a complete program of opening and closing the credit union with safety as the primary component. With the pressure today to open the office early for meetings or other functions the opening procedures at some financial institutions have been compromised and could contribute to a dangerous robbery. In both the morning glory and closing robbery scenarios the robber or robbers hold the employees and sometimes customers as hostages while they force the employees to get them the money. In most of these types of robberies the loss is larger and the effects on the employees are greater. It is therefore very important that opening procedures include two persons; one to open and clear the office and the other to observe and enter only after the all clear signal is observed. The first person to enter the credit union should also step outside the office so that the second person observes that all is clear before moving toward the credit union office. Obviously before any actions are taken to enter the credit union the opening personnel should make sure no person is loitering or looking suspicious in a parked vehicle. I have always recommended that if the persons who open the office are suspicious about anyone that the police are notified to check the area before proceeding with the opening. In closing a credit union the same cautions apply. No one should be allowed into the office after closing and the door should remain locked until the employees leave. The police should be called about any suspicious persons on foot or in a vehicle. As a former police office I can attest that the police would rather check out a suspicious person than respond to a dangerous take over robbery.

Putting into practice all of the measures we have discussed and measuring the effectiveness of the training, policies and practices is the next component of the plan for robbery deterrence. I suggest that employees should have training that I have witnessed to be highly effective such as a morning five minute stand up training session. These sessions can be to discuss a product roll out or emphasis, a new procedure, or highlight security training, fraud prevention training, robbery reactions and more. I suggest that at least once per week the training is focused on employee safety. It is very important to keep a high level of compliance and employee awareness to safety especially robbery safety.

Key factors to remember is that we work in an industry where robbery is not a possibility rather an event that we see happen every day. Thinking that it will happen to someone else is not acceptable as credit union robbery happens in large cities, small cities, and even in rural areas. Not being prepared through training polices, and best practices may contribute to unnecessary harm to employees and customers. Not being mentally prepared to react and survive can lead to making mistakes that a robber may interpret to be “losing control of the situation”. Remember the robber often uses yelling and profanity and sometimes a weapon to gain control and extract fear. Many times the robber is under the influence of drugs or alcohol and is much stressed. Your calm response and actions and adherence to training will be the best way for you to survive the several minutes of a robbery.

A result of all that has been discussed here is that the vast majority of robbers of banks and credit unions are arrested very soon after a robbery and convicted because of the good practices of the industry in identification and witness follow up. Many robberies are committed by “serial” robbers who continue until they are caught and can create havoc until this happens. By adherence to best practices these serial robbers are taken off the street before someone gets hurt.

An analogy I would like to end with is about the commercial airline pilot. A pilot will tell you that in good weather and conditions flying can be an enjoyable job. In emergency conditions however the pilot must be able to perform calmly and confidently and rely on the emergency training that they receive in training simulators and on the job training with experienced pilots as co-pilots until they are ready to command a plane. Like pilots we perform our jobs very well every day. In an emergency we are called upon to lead by example and remain calm and confident calling upon our training and procedures as well as our survival ability to make a dangerous situation end quickly without anyone injured in the process. We should all be proud of what we do every day to make our credit unions safe for our customers and for us too.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Thomas J. Lekan CPP
Tom Lekan, C.P.P., is the Senior Vice President for Security Consulting, Risk Management, and Investigations for the Atlantis Company, Security Management Services, and a full service security firm. Previously Tom was Director of Security for KeyBank N.A. for many years, and was also the Director of Security and Safety for Nestlé’s U.S. operations for thirteen years. He is board certified as a Certified Protection Professional, and is known locally and nationally in the professional security community.

At present, Mr. Lekan is a financial services security consultant as well as an expert witness resource to attorneys in litigation matters regarding financial security institutions. He began this practice several years ago. He is a nationally known speaker regarding bank security and fraud and also was a featured instructor at two CUNA security conferences. Tom also was a police officer for ten years.

Copyright Thomas J. Lekan Security Consulting LLC

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While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.
For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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