The Baltimore bank they hit Saturday afternoon made it a full dozen, and that’s not counting the unsuccessful attempt in the county hours before.
According to the FBI, a single criminal crew of two men and two women is now suspected in 12 bank robberies across the Baltimore region since March. Younger than the average bank robbers, and clever in a few key ways, they’ve struck in Catonsville and Essex, Severn and Parkville, Arbutus and Carney and Harbor East.
“Aside from violating federal law, they’re pretty smart,” said Special Agent John Krajnak, bank robberies coordinator in the FBI’s Baltimore field office. “We’re seeing different vehicles, different tags, changes in clothes, changes in appearance and changes in roles.”
“They’re not a dumb bunch. They’re switching things up. They’re doing a decent job casing these places.”
About 2 p.m. Saturday, the Columbia Bank at the Village at Cross Keys in Baltimore was robbed. About two hours before that, the same crew had tried — without success — to rob a BB&T Bank in Pikesville.
The suspects appear to be in their 20s or 30s. They don sunglasses and operate “with a little bit of style, some more thought put into what they are doing” than the average crew, Krajnak said.
They are committing what Krajnak calls “note jobs” — in which they are handing notes to bank tellers demanding cash and threatening violence if they don’t get it.
The approach is less dramatic than in the movies and in some other real-life encounters, when bank robbers brandish their weapons. But they’re considered no less dangerous, Krajnak said.
“We take every note job as seriously as we do a gunned-up takeover, because we’ve seen note jobs escalate,” he said. “We’ve seen ones start out where we say, ‘Well how could this person be threatening?’ And then we do end up seeing a gun pulled.”
And even in note jobs where no one is hurt, like those of this latest crew, employees suffer greatly, as do the banks and the businesses surrounding them, Krajnak said.
“In each of the robberies, they are threatening violence against the employees and the customers,” he said. “Whether a gun is pointed at them or a verbal threat is made or a note threat is made, the trauma that is experienced can be very much the same.”
Krajnak said the FBI had “a pretty good sense that we had a crew going early on,” after the first few robberies, in part based on the language used in the various notes.
“That’s one of the things that Quantico will forensically analyze,” he said, referring to the FBI’s research center in Quantico, Va.
Krajnak said many bank robbery crews strike repeatedly. Many don’t stop until they’re caught. Still, for one crew to hit 13 banks is a lot — more than some entire FBI divisions in the country have seen all year.
Because of that, the FBI, along with its local law enforcement partners on the Baltimore Violent Crimes Task Force, has this latest crew squarely in its sights, Krajnak said — and is looking for the public’s help, offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to “the identification, arrest, and conviction” of the suspects.
Krajnak said Baltimoreans are sometimes viewed as being unhelpful in criminal investigations because of the “Stop Snitching” culture in the city, but that’s generally not true with bank robberies. People call in often with tips, he said.
Each one is vetted, because “you don’t know if somebody is harboring a grudge and they are throwing out false flags,” but they are often helpful in identifying those responsible, he said.
Krajnak declined to describe the tactics the FBI is using now to zero in on the crew, which he is calling the “Mod Squad” for their stylish approach. But he said it is multi-faceted.
“We will get them,” he said, “one way or the other.”