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Unfortunately for bank tellers and customers around the county, FBI special agent James “Benny” Stinnett does his banking online. That makes it pretty unlikely that he’ll be on scene to foil any bank robberies as they happen.

But there’s a good chance that he’ll show up afterward to help find the robber, perhaps even giving him or her a snappy nickname along the way.

Stinnett, who retains a Southern drawl from his native Tennessee, investigates bank robberies for the FBI and regularly meets with local law enforcement agencies and bank employees. This year, he’s focusing on cases like the notorious ongoing “Geezer Bandit” series and boosting the 2011 solve rate for bank robberies, which now stands at 65 percent.

In an interview this week, Stinnett talked about the things he’s learned from bank robbers, what tellers and customers should do during a robbery, and how a large suspect reacted to an unflattering bank-robber nickname.

What’s with the nicknames given to bank robbers, like the Mr. Magoo Bandit, the Big Boy Bandit and the Ho-Hum Bandit?

It’s just a way of bringing an identification to that robber so the public can recognize them. Hopefully it will solicit information and tips, anything that we can follow.

I try to make them true to the form of the person. The Ho-Hum Bandit, for example, was sort of lackadaisical, while the Go Green Bandit uses a bicycle, like he’s environmentally friendly.

Sometimes I’ll tell the robbers about their nicknames, like the Monkey See, Monkey Do Bandits. They did four robberies together, and one of them got apprehended. Just by coincidence, he had a nickname that meant monkey in Spanish.

One time I told a robbery suspect that I was going to nickname her the Big Mama Bandit. She got upset and said, “I’m not that big!”

Is there a typical bank robber?

People rob banks for different reasons, but a lot of the time you have drug addicts and gambling addicts, people who can’t get out of their situation financially. You really learn what being an addict will drive people to do, reasonable people.

Has the economy affected bank robberies much?

We have had some who have stated that it was the only thing they could do because they were about to lose their house. They thought that this was a viable option.

Is there much of a difference in security between banks?

Each financial institution has its own policies, procedures and financial limitations. It’s very individualistic and not a cookie-cutter situation. They also have to take into account their history and geography to determine whether or not they’re a high target.

In a lot of cases, you have an offender who got a jailhouse education in how to conduct a bank robbery or conduct a better bank robbery, what security devices were their downfall.

What do people misunderstand about bank robberies?

People think they get a lot of money, but they generally don’t because of policies and procedures.

Also, all bank robbers should be considered armed and dangerous, even if they don’t show a weapon. In some cases, robbers have confessed that they had a real functioning weapon on them but didn’t show it.

What should tellers do during a robbery?

It’s easy for me to say, but they should try to remain as calm as possible and comply with the robber’s demands. Be as good a witness as possible: try keep the ransom note, note the color of clothes, shade of pants and things like tattoos and jewelry.

What if you’re a customer when a robbery takes place?

You should do the exact same thing. Try to be the best witness possible, but don’t intervene, don’t take the law into your own hands.

Once the robber is outside, they can utilize the fact that many bank walls are made of glass and look outside. Get the direction of travel of the robber, and hopefully get a vehicle type and license plate, note whether he’s getting in on the driver or passenger side.

Stinnett said hostage situations are less common during bank robberies here compared to other parts of the country, but they can still happen.

Generally, a hostage situation is due to first responders positioning themselves inadequately, and the bank robber observes them.

In some cases, bank robbers get away with it many times. Are any bank robbers the kinds of master criminals that you see on TV and movies?

Some are smarter than others. But generally speaking, it’s just a matter of luck. If they get away with it, it’s just a matter of time before they’re caught. Time is on our side.

Please contact Randy Dotinga directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com...

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