Maryland dealing with a spike in bank robberies

BALTIMORE - Jamese Christine Queen needed money to pay bills.

Her solution to the problem was to commit robbery at the Bank of Glen Burnie, not once, but twice in a span of 15 days. In each case, first on Sept. 13 and then on Sept. 28, the 47-year-old former Anne Arundel County school bus driver walked up to the same teller at the branch, located at 101 Crain Highway South in Glen Burnie, handed the teller a note demanding money and then fled.

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However, for Queen, the third time wasn't a charm.

She attempted robbery at a different Bank of Glen Burnie on Oct. 5 in Severn, but fled before receiving any money. This time, an employee wrote down Queen's vehicle registration plate information, which eventually led to her arrest later that day.

Anne Arundel County police Chief Kevin Davis told reporters last week that a very alert bank teller gave police "just the break we needed" to track down Queen.

Cases like Queen's have become all-too-common over the last few months in Maryland. According to statistics from the FBI, there have been 98 robberies in the state through Oct. 11 this year. This compares to 86 bank robberies for all of 2012 and 159 in 2011. Much of the increase has occurred over the past three months.

Familiar sites, easy targets

Several jurisdictions have dealt with cases recently in which a suspect, or pair of suspects, targeted the same bank multiple times. This includes last month when a man and woman were arrested for a robbery at the New Windsor State Bank on Sept. 18 and 24 in Carroll County.

In those cases, the Carroll County Sheriff's Office said, Jeffrey Barry Thompson, 54, of Union Bridge and Deanna Lorraine Dodd, 35, of Baltimore, allegedly confessed to taking turns robbing the New Windsor State Bank with the other acting as the getaway driver. Like in the Anne Arundel cases, Thompson and Dodd allegedly handed the tellers a note, demanding money before fleeing.

"It's not often that you get two people hitting the same bank that close together," said Carroll County Sheriff's Office spokesman Cpl. Jon Light. "They obviously found a comfort level with this location."

Having that greater understanding of a particular location is often a reason for a suspect to target the same location multiple times. That appears to be the case in Harford County in which a 53-year-old Dundalk man was arrested and charged last week with six robberies in which two banks and two post offices were each hit twice between Sept. 30 2010 and this past April 27.

The Harford County Sheriff's Office said John Joseph Wilson , of the 2900 block of Dunbrin Road, committed robbery at the Madison Square Federal Savings Bank in Fallston, the Sovereign Bank in Bel Air and the U.S. Post Office branch in Benson twice each.

"Bank robberies are either crimes of opportunity or targeted locations," said Ed Hopkins, spokesman for the Harford County Sheriff's Office. "Many of these locations are targeted because they are vulnerable. They occur in rural areas and/or suburban communities that are isolated, but also close to major roads which enable an easy getaway."

Hopkins said most bank robberies are committed by someone fairly local, who is familiar with the business and/or the geography and works hard to get in and out as quickly as possible. Knowing the lay of the land, Hopkins said, makes it easier for the criminal to hit a bank and be long gone before police arrive.

Hopkins said those who robbed the Sovereign Bank in Forest Hill on Sept. 25 appear to fit that profile. In that incident, two men wearing masks entered the bank, located on the 2000 block of Rock Spring Rd., at 12:26 p.m. Police said the men displayed handguns, demanded money from the teller and escaped after getting an undisclosed amount of cash. That case remains unsolved.

"To come into a bank at that time a day, brandishing a weapon, a person likely would have to know the location," Hopkins said. "It was planned out, and the bank was probably targeted for a while. Most bank robbers come in quietly, pass a note and try to get out before being recognized or drawing attention to themselves."

Threat of violence effective

FBI spokesman Richard Wolf agrees with that assessment. He said weapons are only seen in about 25 percent of bank robberies. Typically, he said, a robber just implying they have a weapon is all that is used to commit the crime.

That was the approach allegedly used by Andrew Maberry. According to the FBI, Maberry, 19, of O'Fallon Ill., was dubbed the "I-55 Bandit" after he allegedly robbed 10 banks and tried to rob two others in five states: Maryland, Illinois, Missouri, West Virginia and Tennessee. Maberry surrendered to federal officials in September.

"Statutorily, all robberies are considered violent, but most robbers don't have to, or choose not to, go beyond the threat of violence," Wolf said. "We probably see weapons in about 25 percent of the robberies, but that doesn't mean they aren't present in more. Crimes committed with a gun have mandatory sentences as well."

Anne Arundel County police spokesman Justin Mulcahy said the threat of violence was also very effective in Queen's case. After receiving a dye pack from the teller in her first robbery, police said Queen went up to the same teller a second time and threatened the victim.

"No dye pack this time," Queen allegedly told the teller. "I know when you come in and when you leave."

A note was also utilized in the Sept. 27 robbery of a Baltimore County Savings Bank in Essex . Baltimore County police said two suspects entered the bank and passed a note to a teller implying they had a bomb. Officers arrested the pair, along with a third suspect not long after the robbery.

Alexis Chandler, 19, of Windsor Mill; Czekiah Fludd, 24, of Baltimore; and Ashley Fitz, 22, of Baltimore, were charged with armed robbery. Fitz was also charged with a similar robbery at the First Mariner Bank on the 4800 block of Painters Mill Road earlier that day.

Mulcahy said it's important for robbery victims to remember that safety is the top priority and that confronting a suspect should be left up to law enforcement.

"Confronting a robbery suspect you even suspect may be armed is dangerous," Mulcahy said. "The best thing a victim can do is be a good witness, remember as many details as possible, try to get information on a getaway vehicle if possible and make note of which direction the suspect headed toward after the robbery."

Technological advances helpful

Along with eye-witness accounts, police said they have been aided in recent years with advances in video surveillance equipment and through social media outreach when it comes to solving bank robberies.

For example, having clear suspect photos has played a role in helping Anne Arundel County police solve 13 of its 15 bank robberies in 2013. Typical clearance rates for bank robberies in 60 to 70 percent, Wolf said.

Also, Maberry turned himself in less than 24 hours after the FBI launched a publicity campaign seeking assistance in locating him.

"Technology helps us get the information out in a clear and concise way as quickly as possible," said Hopkins, the Harford County Sheriff's Office spokesman. "The clearer the photo, the better chance we have in identifying the suspect.

"We had one recent commercial robbery – not one involving a bank – where the suspect turned himself in to police. He did this not because of a tip, but because he couldn't go anywhere without seeing his photo online or in public and the pressure got to him. It's a great tool for us."


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