The number of bank robberies in Baltimore -- which reached a record high last year -- has dropped significantly in 1994, FBI statistics show. For the first time, Baltimore County is outpacing the city in bank robberies.
But law enforcement and banking officials say that does not necessarily mean that crime is shifting to the suburbs.
"The big difference is the drop in the city," said Special Agent Andrew S. Manning, spokesman for the FBI. In the first half of 1993, there were 61 robberies in the city; over the same period this year, there were just 29. He attributes the decline to increased security at city banks, as well as aggressive investigations.
Last year, when a record 116 banks were robbed in Baltimore, the Maryland Bankers Association and the Maryland Association for Bank Security created a task force to combat the crimes. They agreed to a three-pronged approach: closer contact with law enforcement agencies, better security and supplying the public with more detailed descriptions of suspects.
One of the biggest improvements is better security cameras, said Kenneth R. Smith of the bankers association. "If someone walks into a bank and does something they're not supposed to, we'll get a picture -- a good picture, and police will have it in 24 hours."
Some banks also have installed better alarm systems and bullet-proof "bandit-barriers" -- ceiling-high Plexiglas at the counters, he said.
And in an effort to coax more help from the public, the task force, along with NationsBank and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., contributed a total of $15,000 to the Crime Stoppers program, which offers rewards for information leading to arrests.
Although Baltimore County now outranks the city in bank robberies, with 53 through June, it has actually seen only a slight increase from last year's total of 47.
"Typically, robbers hit close to home," Mr. Smith said. "We're pretty sure these are not dislocated criminals from Baltimore City."
And, according to the FBI, many of the Baltimore County robberies have occurred near the city line.
"It's a crap shoot, whether they choose a bank in the city or the county," said Mr. Manning. "Bank robbers don't differentiate between the city/county line."
Bank robberies statewide also have dropped in the first six months this year -- from 172 to 135. Much of that decrease is attributed to the arrest of several suspects believed to have been involved in a string of robberies, Mr. Manning said.