BY TRACY SCHOENBERG, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
CAROL DODGEN STARTED HER company, Dodgen Security Consulting, LLC, in 1998, and since that time has spent many years researching cases of robbery and workplace violence.
“I have been fortunate enough to sit down with individuals who have survived such incidents to try to learn from their experiences,” she explains. “I have also interviewed several bank robbers with the hopes of gleaning information from them that could be useful in robbery prevention and survival.”
In this interview with COMMERCE, Carol Dodgen shares her assessment of security risks and how to outsmart the bad guys who are constantly searching for vulnerabilities.
COMMERCE: How can you make a location more attractive to customers and less attractive to criminals?
CAROL DODGEN: Every financial institution needs to conduct a security assessment at least annually and possibly more often if there are changes. The assessment can be conducted by the security officer or an outside consultant. Beyond just the physical security, other things need to be examined such as policies and procedures and employee training.
Q. What measures can you take in terms of physical security to reduce your risks?
A. Beyond our normal physical efforts of target hardening such as locks, alarms and access control devices, we can also apply Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles to our offices. CPTED is an approach that involves using the built environment and natural features to make an area more attractive to customers and legitimate users and less attractive to criminals.
Applications of this philosophy maximize opportunities for natural surveillance—opening window blinds; removing posters and signs that block views in and out; keeping shrubs trimmed down to two feet or less; cutting tree canopies up to six feet; and providing adequate lighting around our offices and eliminating dark spots and corners that inhibit our ability to see our surroundings. Look at your property from the eyes of a criminal. What method would you use? Where are the vulnerabilities in your physical security, policies and procedures?
Q. What are the most common types of robberies that people need to prepare for?
A. The lone robber who presents a note or makes a verbal demand is still the most common crime scenario. However, considering the recent increase in take-over robberies, it is imperative that everyone in the bank is prepared and trained prior to the robbery. A take-over robbery involves all the employees and customers—not just one teller. First, it is critical every-one stays calm. Oftentimes, these robbers are drug addicts robbing to support their habit. They may be desperate, nervous and have no regard for human life. Those facing this situation should do their best to comply and not offer resistance. In most cases, the robbers leave without hurting anyone. Erratic behavior, sudden movements or offering resistance will greatly increase the chance of injury.
Q. What is a morning glory robbery?
A. A morning glory robbery occurs early in the morning before or during opening procedures. Robbers may like this approach because they won’t have to deal with customers or people walking in during the robbery, and they often are able to access more cash. It is critical that banks in particular observe safe opening procedures to deter this type of robbery.
Q. What are the best procedures for a safe opening of a location?
A . The safest opening involves two people. One person should drive around the office, looking for any signs of forced entry prior to entering. The other person should remain in their vehicle and watch as the first person makes entry. The first person should search the inside of the office, looking for any signs of entry or anything out of place.
Once satisfied that the inside is secure, the searching employee exits, and walks far enough to be out of control of someone inside and gives a signal to the employee in the car. The searching employee then re-enters, locks the door, and watches as the second employee enters. If the searching employee doesn’t exit within a reasonable amount of time, the waiting employee in the parked car would notify police. The reason that the all-clear signal requires the searching employee to exit is that if someone were inside, they could force this person to send an all-clear signal from inside, drawing another employee in.
Q. What should you take into consideration when closing a location at the end of the day?
A. Just as you search the building in the morning at opening time, you should search the office before closing—checking restrooms, offices, closets, etc. You don’t want to find yourself locked in with a robber. Lock the door on time and don’t allow anyone in after hours. Try to leave with others rather than alone and always keep your guard up at closing time. Look out into the parking lot before exiting and don’t step out if you feel uncomfortable. You can always call the police and have them ride through the parking lot. When conducting your physical security assessment, lighting is one of the items you should look at closely. What is the lighting like in your parking lot? You should strive for an even canopy of light with no shadows. This would also include areas around your employee doors, ATMs and night depositories. Look for possible “ambush points”—dark corners, alcoves and recessed doors.
Q. What are the statistics on bank robberies?
A. According to the FBI, there were 4,251 bank robberies reported in 2016, which is up from 4,091 in 2015. An individual coming in and passing a note to a teller is still the most common method, but we did see an increase of about 100 more take-over robberies in 2016. Obviously, these type robberies are more violent and present a greater threat to employees.
Another disturbing trend has been the kidnapping of bank employees and, in some cases, their family members. Employees are then forced to go to their bank or credit union and “rob” the bank for the kidnap- pers. A number of these happened in the last few years. One group that was caught had reportedly scoured bank websites and social media sites for information about employees, and then watched the employees and their families for a period of time before their crime. They even hid cameras around the homes of their victims to observe their habits.
Q. How can you best protect yourself, your employees and your family?
A. The first thing is to recognize that it can happen to you. It can happen anywhere—big cities, small towns. Don’t be lulled into complacency because it hasn’t ever happened in your area. Then assess your work area, your home and your habits. Are there things you are doing that put you at greater risk? How easy would it be for a criminal to gather information about you, and how predicable are your habits? Robbers are looking for the path of least resistance, the easiest target. Once you identify those things that make you a suitable target, do everything you can to eliminate or reduce those risk factors. Recent cases of extortion and kidnapping have involved family members, so we should be discussing these possibilities with family members.
Q. What do bank robbers themselves have to say about security?
A. I have interviewed several bank robbers. I spoke to one who was a prolific serial robber, having robbed about 30 banks in a year’s time. He was motivated by a drug habit. He told me that he only selected one-level banks with no guards. He did not carry a gun but made a verbal demand or used a note. He said he was afraid that he would use the gun if he met any resistance, so he chose not to carry one. He feels the best way to deter robberies is to publicize the fact that bank robbers are usually caught—about 54 percent of the time, according to FBI statistics. Another robber I spoke with worked with a partner and “took over” the bank he robbed. He cased the bank for about two weeks prior to the robbery, watched employees and planned out their escape route. Robbers are usually concerned with several things—not being recognized, getting out quickly and how they will make their escape.
Q. When it comes to crime prevention, what is the cost of being complacent?
A. Complacency is our enemy. We hope and pray it never happens to us, but we must do everything we can to prevent it from occurring by making ourselves a less attractive target, and we must be prepared in case it does happen. Individuals who are trained are at a great advantage over those who are not. We react as we are trained.