by Pete Mazzaccaro

Last Wednesday night, as shoppers in Chestnut Hill were getting ready to participate in the Avenue’s Stag and Doe Night, an annual tradition that keeps Hill retailers open late every Wednesday in December before Christmas, a man entered the TD Bank at 8600 Germantown Ave., pointed a gun at a teller, demanded cash and fled the scene with a duffel bag full of what the FBI described as “an undetermined amount” of money.

The Hill was atwitter with the news the next day. The crime had earned a short spot on the evening news and a blurb was published in the Philadelphia Metro.

“Did you hear? The bank was robbed on Stag and Doe night.”

There’s a number of interesting implications in the way people would say that sentence. One is that a bank robbery is surprising. It is indeed a surprising crime. According to national crime statistics, 60 percent of bank robbers are caught compared to 25 percent for other thieves. And most bank robbers make off with a few thousand dollars at best. It’s a high risk, low reward crime.

But it has ceased to be a surprising crime in Chestnut Hill, where we might get a dozen bank robberies a year, if not more. And it’s actually not uncommon everywhere else, either. I get emails about bank robberies regularly from the FBI. They happen everywhere, even in the suburbs – in Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery counties.

And although it’s always frightening when you consider that guns are usually used in these holdups, there is never any actual harm done to civilians. I suppose that makes us all lucky.

But back to being astonished by bank robberies.

The other thing that surprised Hillers was that the robbery occurred on a holiday shopping night. It’s as if it requires more than the usual level of psychotic criminal intent to rob a bank right before Christmas than at any other time of the year.

Of course, it’s not hard to imagine why any robber might be more desperate this time of the year than at any other. I’m sure even criminals feel the need to buy gifts. It’s also a time of year when more basic needs – like keeping a house warm – are more pressing.

The holidays are also a time when divisions between those who have and those who don’t have as much are made all the more stark. A season in which consumption plays a major role will do that. A desperate bank robbery two weeks before Christmas is practically a made-for-TV plot line for a morality tale about social stratification. I could easily see it being the opener for an episode of “Law and Order.”

This isn’t to say that there’s an excuse for robbing a bank, or that we shouldn’t be surprised by bank robberies – shrug our shoulders and say, “Oh well, just another day in America.” And I don’t think it’s necessary to feel bad about gift giving. It’s an essential part of the holidays.

So too, unfortunately, are bank robberies.

PS: Be sure to have a safe, warm and happy holiday.

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