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Bank robberies on the rise

Friday, March 13, 2009

There was another bank robbery in the Chicago area Friday, this time in Lake Village, Indiana.

The Newton County sheriff says three men robbed the Kentland Bank after striking two tellers in the head with their guns. They fled with an unknown amount of cash in a white SUV with Illinois plates.

Pictures from Chopper 7 HD show the bank and its surroundings, 60 miles southeast of Chicago.

The Chicago region is on track for over 200 bank robberies for the fifth year in a row.

Twenty-six-year veteran FBI Special Agent Ross Rice says, like in Lake Village Friday, robberies are trending toward the takeover variety, where a gang of thieves burst into a bank. For instance, two men wanted for holdups in Skokie and Cicero on February 16 rounded up staff and customers, and rifled through teller drawers hoping to grab thousands of dollars.

Typically, they don't get to the big money in the safes. Still, it's just luck that more people haven't been killed in Chicago in such volatile situations.

"You have multiple people with guns inside a bank with hostages," said Rice.

2005 is the first year the 200 hold-up threshold was breached, with 240 robberies. In 2006 that jumped to 284; 2007 was slightly down; and last year 277 bank jobs were pulled.

When this crime of opportunity occurs in Illinois, jurisdiction falls to the FBI, where every case is logged in the offices of the agency's Violent Crimes Task Force. Since 1989 members of the Cook County police and the Chicago Police Department have been part of the team that tracks the trends and goes after the suspects. They solve 75 percent of their cases -- the best big-city record in the nation.

"We've seen an explosion in the number of branches. We have banks in grocery stores throughout the metropolitan area. They are open on nights and weekends. We have to staff up almost 24/7 in the squad just to respond to bank robberies," Rice said.

Shots were fired in Fridays' Lake Village heist. The suspects were wearing hoodies and two of the three were wearing masks. The tellers hit with the guns were transported to an area hospital with minor injuries. It is not clear how much money the robbers stole.

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