Friday, September 24, 2010

300 bank robberies a year?

Okay, I'm not obsessed with movies. Really I'm not. You'll have to take my word for it because a fair number of the postings on this blog have to do with overthinking some bit of cinematic trivia.

But this one has stuck in my head because it makes me feel like I'm taking crazy pills. (In the interests of disclosure, I have a cold and have just snarfed down a full pack of Fisherman's Friend. But to the best of my knowledge, the only side effect of those is to make you smell like an overturned tank truck of Vicks Vapo-Rub.)

I've seen Inception twice this summer, which means I have also seen the trailer for the Ben Affleck vehicle "The Town." Cool working-class antiheroes, bank robberies, doomed love affair. Okay, but one of the first things you hear is that

"... there are over 300 bank robberies in the Boston area each year."


Now, there are 365 days in a year. Subtract the weekends, when of course banks aren't open, and you've got something on the order of 260 weekdays. Subtract holidays and you're down to maybe 250 opening days.

So, if we're to believe Ben Affleck, there is on average one bank robbery every single day in Boston, plus one bonus day each week where there are too. (Are Fridays your lucky day? I feel like Wednesdays.)

And that's a business that's only open from about 10am to 4pm.

No wonder these guys have to have split-second timing!

In real life, someone has tried to check these figures and it turns out that there are, in fact, about 300 "bank crimes" on average every year in Massachussets. Maggie Lloyd of Boston's The Tech cites FBI statistics to this effect, and stipulates that they don't know how many of the crimes are in the Boston area. They also mention that the "bank crimes" category covers a whole range of things, of which however the most common is walking up to the teller and demanding money. The stats are then followed up with a number of anecdotes about specific armed robbers.

Granted, I don't live in Boston but I think I would have heard about it if there were a bank robbery (in the commonly-understood sense of the word) every day or every other day. That's the kind of thing that newspaper editors live to put on their front page. I have stayed up really really late and drunk way too much beer with friends who lived in Boston and never once did the subject come up.

I would gently suggest that the vast majority of these bank crimes involve someone depositing a phony check at an ATM and immediately withdrawing the whole amount. "Bank robberies" as presented in The Town are to bank crime as... well, as marijuana is to illegal drugs.

Why do I care? Well, it seems to me that an awful lot of people (1) can't do basic math and (2) have an exaggerated fear of violent crime. From their obsession with handguns and long-gun registries and the freedom to shoot back should the King of England try to quarter troops in one's basement, you would think we lived in a constant state of low-grade warfare, where any trip to the ATM could be your last. Those people tend to (3) vote for yahoos who promise to do anything--ANYTHING--to keep everyone safe from the veritable Wild West Show seemingly unfolding outside their front doors.

Not helping, Ben. Not helping at all.


Well, the ever-knowledgable Idle Primate read this and, once again leaving me gobsmacked with not just the depth but the directions of his knowledge, had this to say:

"I don’t know any stats, but bank robbery is incredibly common and banks do everything they can to not publicize it. you’ve probably been in a bank while it was being robbed.

Most bank robberies are a guy walking up to a teller and passing a little note saying, “I am armed give me x amount of money.” The teller can draw $2500 from the machines without any extra authorisation and they are trained to do just that in those situations, and hand it over. To any bystander, it looks like a regular transaction. Bank tellers find it exciting and flirt with bank robbers.

It's small change to a bank, but there is shitloads of it going on."



Well, maybe I stand corrected.

Maybe Ben Affleck isn't a douchebag after all. Actually, no, that's going too far.


  1. I'd just like to add, that as a Canadian security professional, I have no idea what the deal is in Boston, or whether Boston bank robbers are charismatic with perfect teeth and good hairlines, or whether they think of their "work" as a good place to pick up chics, as the trailer for the town suggests. There is a difference between the 90 second thrill of a dangerous badboy during a dreary shift at work and life with a grotty crackhead whose family celebrate prison release dates, not birthdays.

  2. FYI: The Tech is not a Boston newspaper. It's MIT's student newspaper, in Cambridge. The writer, Maggie Lloyd, is an MIT student - and like any good MIT student, she knows her data analysis. =)