Bank robberies trending down in GTA in recent years

It may not seem like it in the Toronto area lately, but there are actually fewer people robbing banks than in the recent past.

Despite recent high-profile cases, long-term decline seen across Canada

On a Sunday afternoon in April, two men ran into a TD Bank branch in Toronto's west end and took over the premises.

Armed with a weapon, the men began taking money from the registers, but a bank customer stepped forward to confront them. In the scuffle that followed, one of the robbers fired a shot, wounding a young female teller.

Police say it was the first time a teller had been shot in a GTA bank robbery in 14 years.

The two suspects then fled to the parking lot, with the same customer in pursuit. They ended up firing again, wounding the customer, before fleeing the scene.

Within three days, police had arrested two suspects. One of them had his bags packed and was set to board a plane out of Canada.

Police said the violent robbery at the TD bank in April was the first time a teller had been shot in the GTA in 14 years. (Ivy Cuervo/CBC)

That was just one of a series of headline-making bank robberies that have plagued the Toronto area this year.

In July, police alleged that Corey Richardson, a 44-year-old man had undertaken a half-dozen bank robberies in Winnipeg and TorontoThey later alleged he had hit another seven banks in Canada's most populous city.

Investigators caught up him at an apartment building in east Toronto on Aug. 12. He was due to appear in court on Tuesday to face multiple robbery charges.

This summer, police also warned the public about a series of "increasingly violent" bank robberies that have occurred in Toronto, as well as in Peel and York regions.  Police say the suspects have used violent tactics to get what they want, including pistol-whipping and assaulting staff members.

"These individuals are terrorizing the banking community and we need to put a stop to it," Staff Insp. Mike Earl of the Toronto police hold-up squad said, when describing the impact of the robberies to reporters.

Bank robberies in decline 

Despite this spate of high-profile incidents in Toronto lately, statistics from the Canadian Bankers Association (CBA) suggest that the number of bank robberies taking place in the GTA is well down from what used to be the norm.

"We’ve definitely seen a drop over the last few years," said Malcolm Chivers, the organization's director of security and intelligence, in a recent interview with CBC News.

The CBA says that 193 bank robberies occurred in the Greater Toronto Area last year, a similar number to the year before. Those counts are well below the 300-plus bank robberies that occurred in five of the years from 2000 through 2009.

That matches a trend seen across the country where some 591 bank robberies occurred last year, compared to nearly 1,100 in the year 2000.

Frederick Desroches, a professor in the department of sociology and legal studies at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ont., said that these robberies hit a high-water mark two decades ago, but have largely been dropping since then.

"They have declined a lot, they peaked back in 1993," Desroches told CBC News in a telephone interview.

Years ago, Desroches conducted a study that saw him interview dozens of convicted bank robbers, who told him about their experiences, motivations and methods.

That was at a time when hold-up squads were clearing about 70 per cent of their cases.

Today, Desroches said that figure is closer to 90 per cent, in part because of the security measures in place that can help them identify suspects within minutes.

That means that fewer people are getting away with bank robberies and are unable to undertake the kind of sprees seen in the past, when individuals often hit a dozen institutions before getting caught.

"The police are so quick at catching them, they don’t have the time to run up robberies," Desroches said.

Rewards offered, cases solved

Banks employ a number of methods to prevent robberies and to help police catch suspects after they occur.

These include the offer of rewards, like the $50,000 that is available for those who can provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of the armed group of masked bandits who have still not been apprehended.

Even if a reward isn't paid out, Chivers said it plays a role in bringing a case to public attention.

Since 1999, Chivers said the CBA has offered 20 rewards for information following bank robberies.

In three of these cases, the rewards were paid out, while in nine cases, the police solved the case on their own. Eight of the rewards are still outstanding.

Putting up a reward "shows the public and obviously the criminals that the banks are very serious about this crime and that we’re going to everything we can to support the police and to prevent it from happening," Chivers said.

When it comes down to it, Desroches said that bank robberies are a "really dumb crime," as they often result in little reward,  they typically occur in front of witnesses and can result in long prison sentences.

That's why many of the bank robbers of the past have left the profession.

"Those guys have gone into drugs and fraud," said Desroches, noting that the money is often better and the risks are lower.

With files from CBC's Steven D'Souza


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