Legal Dictionary

bank robbery

Definition of bank robbery

Further reading

Bank robbery is the crime of stealing from a bank. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, robbery is "the taking or attempting to take anything of value from the care, custody, or control of a person or persons by force or threat of force or violence and/or by putting the victim in fear." By contrast, burglary is defined as, "unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft." Definitions vary in other countries, however. In the United Kingdom, robbery is the removal or taking away of property from a place in which you are entitled to be (without any requirement for force or violence to be threatened or used), whilst burglary is largely in line with the US version, entering property unlawfully. In layman's terms, therefore, bank robbery is entering a bank when it is open and either by using force or the threat of force or otherwise obtaining valuables, usually money. Entering a bank when it is closed is burglary.

Bank robbery is a predominantly urban crime, taking place most frequently in cities and large towns. The share of bank robberies in small towns increased from about 20% in 1996 to about one third in 2002, but the majority of bank robberies are concentrated in urban areas. This concentration is often attributed to there being more branches in urban areas, but the number of bank robberies is disproportionately higher than the number of branches. In Canada, for example, seven cities have 30 percent of all bank branches but 66 percent of all bank robberies; in the United Kingdom, London has 10 percent of the nation's branches but 39 percent of its bank robberies.

This has advantages both for bank robbers and for the law enforcement community. Being in urban areas the transportation infrastructure is more highly developed, especially where banks tend to cluster near to retail shopping areas and commercial districts. Such banks are highly profitable targets for bank robbers who are then afforded a number of potential escape routes. The law enforcement community benefit by being able to respond more quickly and the likelihood of catching a bank robber on or near the scene is higher than for other types of crime. This is because most bank robberies are reported very quickly, frequently while the crime is in progress, most bank robberies occur during daylight hours, have multiple witnesses and with modern technology often produce photographic images that can be distributed and used immediately to canvass the local area. Consequently, many robbers are caught the same day. In fact, the clearance rate for bank robbery is among the highest of all crimes, almost 60 percent.


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