How to Survive a Robbery

               William Sutton was popular.  He was, in many ways, a gentleman.  He enjoyed his work and was quoted as saying that he only felt truly alive when plying his trade.  The only problem was that his trade was robbing banks.  Over the course of his life, he robbed 100 banks and netted about $2 million.  The downside, for him, was that he spent half of his adult life in prison.
               In an interview later in his life, he claimed that the weapons he used in his robberies were unloaded.  He was not a violent thief, no one was ever hurt during his heists, and he claimed that if a woman screamed or a child cried he would stop the robbery.
               Unfortunately, not all robbers are as inclined to avoid violence.  In fact, about 10% of homicides occur during robberies.  In one study of a group of incarcerated robbery suspects, almost all did not plan to use violence, but most were willing to use violence if the victim challenged them or did not cooperate.
               Victims are in a very dangerous position during a robbery.  Even our friend William Sutton, aka “Slick Willie,” usually carried a Thompson machine gun noting that you couldn’t rob a bank with charm and personality alone.  Obviously, the victims would not know at the time whether his gun was loaded or not nor whether he was going to hurt them or not. 
               Most robbers are desperate and looking for a ‘quick win.’  The motive for most is to gain money for illegal street activity, such as gambling or drugs.  If drugs are involved that only escalates the risk as the suspect may be going through withdrawal symptoms.
               The risks related to robbery were highlighted recently in a case in Boulder, Colorado.  A man and woman were walking near the college campus at 2 am when a masked man with a gun confronted them.  Initially, the woman thought it was a prank and pulled the bandana off the suspect.  At one point, there was a physical scuffle and the robber fired a warning shot into the air and turned the gun towards the man, shooting and killing him. 
               Fortunately, the police arrested the suspect, Kevin McGregor, within days and charged him with 1st degree murder as well as possession of a firearm by a previous offender.  As it turned out, the suspect had been involved in a robbery in 2008 when the victim was stabbed in the head with a knife.  McGregor served 120 days of a sentence that was originally supposed to be five years. 
               Both cases offer valuable lessons on dealing with robberies.  Perhaps the first lesson is that businesses recognize their risk.  A reporter credited William Sutton with saying that he robbed banks because “that’s where the money is.”  Obvious, but it is often ignored.  If your business handles cash or drugs then you are at a higher risk.  Some simple steps can help reduce that risk though.  William Sutton earned the title of “Slick Willie” long before our 42nd president because of his use of disguises to infiltrate his target banks.  He was arrested or stopped on more than one occasion because of alert and suspicious passers-by.
               Most robbers will stake-out their crime ahead of time, especially to make note of escape routes and potential problems.  They will look for where the cash or drugs are stored.  Some suspects preferred crowds and felt that the numerous people helped cover their escape.  Most prefer isolation and catching their victims alone.  Suspects also look for hiding places to use before the offense, either to hide in the business or to remain out of sight waiting for the chance to commit their crime.
               Part of the prevention process is to limit or minimize the hiding areas around your business, as well as signs stating that the cash is locked and not accessible, such as “Our cash registers only have $20 in the drawer.”  Potential escape routes are another important consideration.  Walk around your business thinking like a robber.  How would you plan it?  How would you get away?  When would you time it?
               Some studies have found that some security measures such as video surveillance do not deter criminals.  We only have to watch shows like “America’s Dumbest Criminals” to see that crooks will really do some dumb things knowing that they are almost certainly being recorded on video.
               On a personal level, the same prevention principles still apply.  Be aware of your surroundings and keep your personal valuables out of sight as much as possible.  Some suspects are looking for the right opportunity and seeing a purse hanging loosely from a woman’s shoulder may be a target for a quick ‘strong-arm’ robbery. 
               Remember that a robbery is a very dangerous situation.  If you are robbed, don’t fight for your property, but do fight for your life.  Generally, giving the crook what they ask for as quickly as possible will get them away from you as soon as possible, especially if they are armed.  Don’t make direct eye contact as they may feel you are trying to memorize their face or description.  Do try to note all the descriptors that you can, especially the things that cannot be easily changed.  Skin tone, height, build, tattoos, scars etc. are things that cannot be disguised easily. 
               Of course, call the police immediately.  Too often, victims call their friends, relatives or boss first.  Make the first call to the police to give them the best chance to catch the crook red-handed. 
               The last piece of advice is a tough one.  If the suspect becomes violent and tries to hurt you or someone else, then you must fight back and defend yourself.  Your life is in danger and you must fight like it.  Do whatever it takes: biting, kicking, gouging.  For situations like this, the most important self-defense move is to think through what you will do in a situation like that.  Picture your workplace or places you frequent and imagine scenarios where you might encounter a robber and what you will do to protect yourself.  Having a plan in mind will help keep you from freezing in a moment of terror and could make all the difference.

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