Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Bank Robberies and Money Bail

One of my favorite things about being a writer is doing research. I’ve learned so many things that I never would have found out about if I hadn’t been writing a story: raw food, the annual Marilyn Monroe memorial service, temporary tattoos, surfing...and now bank robbery.

I decided one of the crimes in my WIP would be a bank robbery. We have a lot of those here in Southern California, probably because of our extensive freeway system. Pick a bank near a freeway onramp, rob it, then get on the freeway.

Since I know nothing about bank robberies, I did some research. Here’s some of the more interesting things I found out.

Robbing a bank became a federal crime in 1934 so you’d think the FBI would be the one investigating all of them. In practice, however, they focus on those suspects who pose the greatest safety threats to the public. So they leave the investigation of “note jobs”, where the robber hands a note to a teller and no violence is involved, to the local police departments, helping out where needed.

The FBI aggressively responds to violent bank robberies, robberies in which a significant financial loss occurs and serial robbers who cross jurisdictional boundaries. In 2012, the FBI launched the Wanted Bank Robbers website, which is national in scope. It’s there to enlist the public’s help in identifying and locating suspects. In 2016, they added an app. Yep, an app.

They also compile statistics on bank robberies throughout the country. The last report I found was for 2018. Lots of interesting statistics here. In 2018, there were 2, 975 bank robberies in the U.S., including its territories. 568 of those were in the Pacific region which includes the states of Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. 405 of those were in California.

The crime in my book is a “note job” so I feel fairly comfortable not bringing the FBI in on this one, leaving it to the local police department.

Here in Southern California, there’s an LA Bank Robbers ( website which focuses on local bank robberies. According to the site, it is “devoted to the identification and apprehension of bank robbers (a.k.a. bank bandits) in the Southern California territory”. It includes actual surveillance photos of robbers taken during the commission of the crime.

All of this helped me out considerably in writing my story. I write cozies, not police procedurals, so I’m happy if my story “kisses the truth”, which I think it will after doing this research.


Here's an update for you on the bail situation in California. In 2018, I wrote a blog post, "Bye Bye Bail", that talked about the state legislature passing a bill that eliminated money bail in the state, replacing it with a risk-assessment system.

As predicted, the bail bonds industry fought back in a big way. The law was put on hold until the recent election where Proposition 25 was on the ballot. The votes are in. The cash bail system will remain in the state. No risk assessment system. I’m not terribly surprised. The bail bonds industry spent a lot of money on ads for this proposition. It was one of the more confusing ones on the ballot. I had to read it a couple times to figure out what voting yes meant.


Douglas Skelton said...

Absolutely fascinating!

Sybil Johnson said...

Glad you enjoyed it!

Thomas Kies said...

I enjoyed this as well! I love doing the research.

Sybil Johnson said...

The trick is to do just as much as you need without going overboard. Hard to do at times.