Metro Atlanta saw more violent bank robberies in ?03

By Billy Corriher

The 273 bank and armored car robberies in Georgia last year set a state record, and 75 to 80 percent of those crimes occurred in the metro-Atlanta area, the FBI said.

Special agent Steve Lazarus, spokesman for the regional office of the FBI, said the increase in bank robberies last year is part of a steady upward trend.

Lazarus said the recent holiday season also saw the usual spike in robberies, but the increase is not the FBI's main concern.

"The main thing we're concerned about is the increase in violence," he said. "We saw a lot of people getting hurt, some were the criminals and some were innocent victims."

Lazarus said three bank robbers have been shot and one killed in the past four months n two by off-duty police officers and one by a security guard.

And though violent robberies are on the rise, Jonesboro resident Katherine Driskell said she is not that worried when she has to go in her bank.

"I think about (robberies) sometimes," she said. "And I'm usually in a hurry anyway, so I'll use the drive-through."

Driskell said the only time she's overly worried about being robbed is when she goes to the ATM.

"I won't go to the ATM at night if at all possible," she said. "That scares me more."

Security expert John Villenes, who runs an Atlanta-based security firm, said there is no perfect way for banks to prevent robberies.

"(Banks) can even have armed security guards and some criminals aren't going to be deterred," he said.

But there are steps banks can take to discourage would-be robbers, Villenes said. Banks can design their lobbies for maximum visibility and train their clerks for robbery situations.

"Any prevention is going to focus on preventing the opportunity to rob the bank," he said.

As for the increase in robberies that turn violent, Villenes said it could be a result of the rough economy and more people being desperate for money.

One recent robbery in Jonesboro on May 12 remains unsolved. An armed white male walked into the Suntrust branch in the Publix grocery store on Tara Boulevard, Capt. Jeff Turner, a Clayton County Police Department spokesman said. The suspect demanded money and fled before police arrived.

Witnesses described the man as 30 to 40 years old with a medium build, Turner said. He weighed approximately 180 pounds and was 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall.

Witnesses said the suspect had a brown goatee and moustache, but the facial hair could have been fake.

Anyone with information on any crime should call the department's tip hotline at (770) 473-5400.