Robbing banks ain't what it used to be


N4N has been surprised by the frequency with which news releases flow from the US Attorney's office in Providence detailing the prosecutions of bank robbers. What is it that motivates these would-be thieves? I asked Te-Ping Chen to find out, and she reports on the subculture of bank robbing in this week's Phoenix:

During the Great Depression, America maintained a fascination with larger-than-life bank robbers like John “Jackrabbit” Dillinger, Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde. And small wonder. With a catastrophic drought sweeping the Midwest and farm foreclosures across the country, bank robbers seemed to be among the few actually living the American Dream: boot-strapping their way, with the barrel of a gun.
These days, bank robberies are driven by something far more mundane: drug addiction. According to Major Campbell of the Providence police, of the 48 bank robberies in the city since 2003, every single perpetrator arrested has had a drug problem — and usually a patchwork of previous criminal convictions.
Bank robbing is a serial crime, says Gail Marcinkiewicz, a Boston-based spokeswoman for the FBI. “A bank robber’s going to continue robbing till he’s caught,” she says. Among convicted bank robbers nationwide, 20 percent have a history as veteran bank thieves.
“These guys are no Cary Grants,” Providence Police Chief Dean Esserman says dryly. “I wish they were. It’d make [catching them] a challenge.”
When it comes to bank robbing, Rhode Island has seen its share of on-the-job buffoonery. Last year, one benighted bank robber in Providence presented the teller with a note demanding “$50s, $30s [sic] and $20s.”

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