​​Implementing a Few Proven Security Measures Can Deter Most Robbery Attempts

As long as financial institutions have existed, there have been bank robbers. Because, to paraphrase Willie Sutton, "that's where the money is," meaning that all credit unions regardless of asset size are tempting targets.

Part 748 of NCUA's Rules and Regulations requires federally insured credit unions to develop a written security program within 90 days of the effective date of its share insurance coverage. Another requirement of Part 748 is that a federally insured credit union's security program must be designed to protect each credit union office from robberies, burglaries, larcenies and embezzlement.

Many large credit unions maintain dedicated security departments with extensive expertise in these matters. These credit unions are regularly updating their programs and responses. However, what can credit unions with more limited resources do?

Despite their portrayal in Hollywood-heist films, most credit union or bank robbers are not a part of organized, professional gangs. Those types of criminals are the exception rather than the rule. According to information provided by the FBI, nearly 70 percent of all bank robbers had no prior experience in bank robbery when they committed their first robbery attempt. In addition, most robbers are apprehended by law enforcement fairly quickly. As a result, a financial institution that implements a few well-proven security devices and measures can deter or respond to most robbery attempts effectively.

Here we discuss some of the proven security measures and devices that are available to credit unions to use:

Physical Security

  • Locking mechanisms: Safes, vaults and high-security locks are very effective against robbery. It seems simple, but good locks can successfully deter or stop a robbery.
  • Lighting: Properly installed interior and exterior security lighting has been proven to deter crime.
  • Bandit Barriers: These are clear barriers made from bulletresistant glass that separate tellers from customers. These barriers prevent "counter-jumpers" from easily gaining access to tellers and cash. Although they are expensive, the use of these devices can significantly deter or reduce robbery attempts.
  • Access Control Vestibules: Also known as "man-traps," these are small spaces that separate the exterior from the bank lobby and have solid, bullet-resistant doors on both sides of the space. In many cases, an ATM is contained in the entry vestibule of an institution. These vestibules can be configured so that staff can safely lock a robber inside until law enforcement arrives.

Surveillance Systems

  • Situational Awareness: Credit union staff can greatly enhance security by simply observing their environment and reporting suspicious activity. One thing to look out for are persons who appear to be observing your financial institution, as many robbers surveil their targets for several days prior to attempting to rob them. Another tip is to be especially alert around your credit union's opening and closing hours, as these are the times when most robberies occur because there are fewer people at your credit union.
  • Use of Greeters: Many financial institutions have a guard or an employee greet everybody who enters the building. The greeter's primary job is to monitor for suspicious behavior. Greeters can also aid in identifying suspects by requiring them to take their sunglasses and hats off when they enter the credit union.
  • Alarm Systems: Alarm systems can be very useful, as well. Once the alarm is triggered, a signal is sent to local law enforcement. However, alarms must be configured properly. Consult with a vendor who knows how to set up the alarm so that it protects all entry and access points.
  • Surveillance Cameras: High-quality image surveillance cameras can deter crime and assist in the apprehension of any robbers. However, proper placement of the cameras is essential. Consult with a vendor who knows how to place the cameras properly to ensure maximum coverage of the credit union's interior and exterior areas.

Response and Tracking Systems

  • Panic Alarms: These are buttons that directly notify local police that a robbery or another dangerous situation is in process. They are usually placed in teller stations. They also can be installed in offices or other locations. Panic alarms are an effective way to quickly and inconspicuously notify law enforcement of danger.
  • GPS Trackers: These devices are placed in bundles of money and are automatically activated when moved outside of the credit union. They have been instrumental in solving many robberies.
  • Dye Packs: These devices are placed in the money packs given to a robber. When the robber leaves the building, a timer is triggered that causes the dye pack to explode, marking the money by splattering permanent, colored dye all over it. This dye makes it harder for the robber to use the stolen funds or move around without raising suspicion.
  • Marked Bills: These are bills that are marked by law enforcement using special dyes or inks. The money is given to robbers and is used to track them down when they use the money.

Finally, consider establishing relationships with the local FBIfield office and local police. They can provide guidance on how to improve your systems. You also can provide them information about your credit union that can help them if they ever have to respond to a robbery or another dangerous situation at your credit union.

Finally, you should update your credit union's security program periodically to take into account any changes to the processes, personnel or location. Review your program regularly to ensure that it is still protecting your members and employees effectively.