A great indication of how jaded I’ve become happened last Monday afternoon when the Local’s circulation manager Cheryl Massaro told me that the Sovereign Bank branch on Germantown Avenue had been robbed. The news wasn’t surprising at all. I shrugged and cursed the fact that  I had to prepare a news story on the robbery in addition to my usual deadline duties.

A bank robbery just isn’t a big story in Chestnut Hill any more. Every few months, it seems, there’s a another incident. Bank robberies are definitely not as common in Chestnut Hill as laptop thefts from cars, but they occur at an interval regular enough to fail to inspire surprise, shock or awe.

What was shocking, though, was the subsequent surveillance camera footage of one of the Sovereign bank robbers  (there were two). In the photo, the man was hoisting a pistol-grip shotgun in the direction of what I can only assume was one of the Sovereign Bank tellers. The typical bank robbery involves a threatening note, not a lethal weapon. That image was disturbing to me on several levels.

First, it’s hard to believe that people are allowed to even purchase something like a pistol-grip shotgun,  a weapon designed for easy — by shotgun standards — concealment and to “neutralize” large crowds. It’s the weapon you’d want in a riot. In other words, it’s designed for nothing but incredibly illegal uses.  You’re not going to hunt or even shoot targets with one of these things.

The second, and even more chilling thing, is to consider what it means when a someone can enter an area building and just point a shotgun at someone in the afternoon.We never consider the possibility that when we’re in a bank a nut with a large and lethal gun might suddenly appear. I guarantee that people in the bank branch at the time this happened are now dealing with some form of trauma.

So what do we do?

Fortunately, no one has been hurt in any of the bank robberies in Chestnut Hill. But that doesn’t make it any less frightening. How can we go about our daily routines when we have to worry about this sort of thing? Should we demand reform of some kind? If so, what would work?

The knee jerk reaction is to blame police or lack of police coverage in Chestnut Hill. I don’t feel like this is the case. I see police in Chestnut Hill as frequently, if not more frequently, than I see them in suburban neighborhoods. I don’t think it’s rationalizing or apologizing to recognize that the police really can’t be everywhere all the time.

Should banks have better security? Perhaps they should. I hate the idea of armed guards in a potential shoot-out with robbers inside a bank branch, but perhaps a good security guard cuts down the likelihood of a robbery all together.

Perhaps there’s not much that can be done to cut down bank robberies. Robbing a bank is beyond desperate and crazy to begin with – it’s automatically a federal crime (the FBI comes after you and you don’t get parole in a federal sentence), and surveillance is so pervasive, it’s impossible not to have your identity in the news moments later. Also, bank robberies are among the crimes most often solved.

According to national crime statistics, 60 percent of bank robbery cases are closed compared to 25 percent for other theft cases. Robbers seldom get more than a few thousand dollars, too. There’s little incentive and high risk.

Given those facts, It’s hard to imagine much will deter people bent on doing something as dangerous and stupid as rob a bank to begin with. I’d like to think differently, but it seems as it we’re going to just have to live with the fact that banks get robbed and that at any time we might come face to face with a guy and a large gun.

Pete Mazzaccaro

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