When Main Street resident Bobbi McCeney found out the PNC Bank across the street from her Laurel home was robbed of more than $20,000 last week, she said she was not shocked.
"I'm thinking, this is getting to be a bit too common," said McCeney, who has lived at the corner of Fourth Street and Main Street for 12 years.
"I feel pretty safe here, but we have had a lot of bank robberies — that's for sure."
According to Laurel police, there have been a total of 11 reported bank robberies and attempted robberies in the city since January 2011. Anne Arundel County police have reported an additional three bank robberies have occurred in the area of that county that is in Laurel.
Six of the incidents within the city limits have occurred at Main Street banks, with all but one occurring at the PNC branch and the neighboring BB&T branch.
The most recent Main Street heist occurred on Feb. 19, when a man, who police believe to be 42-year-old Robert C. Williams, of Columbia, entered the PNC Bank shortly after 9:30 a.m.
Williams implied he had a weapon and demanded money from a teller, who handed him cash, police said.
Video surveillance footage of the incident shows a man entering the bank and dropping an empty bag near the door. The man then receives multiple stacks of cash from the teller, which he drops twice, before exiting the bank through the same door. The man was in the bank just under three minutes.
Williams then allegedly led police on a 20-minute car chase on local roads and north on Route 29 before he was apprehended near his home in east Columbia. Police said they found $20,650 in a backpack after Williams was apprehended.
McCeney's husband, Jim McCeney, frequents the PNC Bank on a regular basis but was not there during last week's robbery. He said he agrees with his wife that there have been more bank robberies lately, but it doesn't change his perception of Main Street.
"I feel safe going there," he said.
'Target of opportunity'
According to Laurel Police Chief Richard McLaughlin, there has not been a substantial increase in bank robberies in recent years.
"I think it's pretty much status quo," McLaughlin said. "It goes through cycles, but I wouldn't say there is an increase in crime."
McLaughlin said bank robberies are "a target of opportunity," and there are many contributing factors that can lead to bank robberies.
"It depends on hardships," McLaughlin said. "If someone is down on their luck, they see it as somewhat of an easy target, but in reality they are not."
McLaughlin said he thinks the high number of robberies on Main Street is coincidental, but could be attributed to the volume of traffic on the road. He added that the thoroughfare's proximity to highways could be another reason, but also said he wasn't sure "how much thought goes into escape routes."
McLaughlin added that, while not widely reported, "a significant amount" of bank robbery cases are closed either through arrests, local and federal indictments or other means. In some cases, a suspect will be charged in a neighboring jurisdiction on a bank robbery with many similar characteristics to one in Laurel, McLaughlin said.
In those instances, while it may not be enough to file criminal charges, McLaughlin said police can still close the case without an official arrest.
McLaughlin said police have "an open dialogue" with banks about potential robberies, and that each bank has its own in-house security system and training. Employees at PNC Bank declined to be interviewed on the incident, as per company policy.