Police address robbery increase

CONYERS — There is no "silver bullet" to curb bank robberies, but officials said they are doing all they can and are indeed working to catch the criminals.

With four bank robberies already this year, acting Police Chief Gene Wilson does not want the public to think the Conyers Police Department is "just sitting here saying, ‘Well, we'll wait until they rob again and maybe we'll catch them.'

Conyers bank robberies over the last four years

2006 7

2007 3

2008 6

2009 3

2010 4*

* As of April 9

"That's not what we're doing, absolutely not what we're doing," Wilson said. "We realize that this is an issue, and we're taking every reasonable step that we can, from a law enforcement point of view, to deter any further robberies. And also to apprehend those people who have already committed robberies."

In fact, a suspect is in police custody in connection with the two January bank robberies that occurred within a week of each other. Wilson said police think the suspect is responsible for both of those crimes.

Lt. Jackie Dunn of the Conyers Criminal Investigations Unit said bank robbers are often serial offenders and estimated it was the proximity of banks in Conyers that may explain the number of recent heists.

"If you get off (Ga. Highway) 138, there are 14 banks within one mile," Dunn said. "So that's a lot of choices. There's not a lot of places where you have that many banks so close together."

Dunn added that police have noticed that robbers have not hit any of the banks with on-site armed security. And Wilson encouraged banks to use whatever private security methods they could to deter the crimes and help in apprehension.

Investigators work with FBI agents and analyze metro Atlanta trends — like weather, time of day and day of the week — to help crack cases. Officers conduct surveillance operations based on that data. There is also a metro Atlanta database that tracks suspect descriptions, robbery methods, and other details to help law enforcement in investigations.

"We're looking at everything that we know that would give us an edge and we're going to catch these people," Wilson said.

More than 40 city and county law enforcement officers were out in force a couple of weeks ago during the recent armed robbery at the Bank of North Georgia. Law enforcement had a visual of the suspect, but were unable to catch him.

"It's not usual that you catch them in progress. It's usual that you have to work from an investigative standpoint," Dunn said.

Once a description of the suspect or vehicle goes out, the force's 58 officers are on the look out. The department has recently decided to involve the media and the public to help catch suspects, Dunn said.

"I think we do a good job internally and externally of putting out those identifiers that we can put out that would help us make an apprehension," Wilson said.

Wilson added that bank robberies are a federal crime and are always considered a threat, whether the assailants come in with weapons or not.

"We still consider robbery a violent crime," Wilson said. "And I don't think there's anything of good that would come out of us downplaying that."

Wilson indicated it would be hard to pinpoint one overarching solution to prevent bank robberies.

"I wish we had something that I could say, ‘This is the reason.' But we don't," Wilson said. "There's no silver bullet here that's going to solve all of this. It takes a meshing of a lot of different efforts."