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Thursday, April 26, 2012

The FBI v. NYPD: The Joint Bank Robbery Task Force Dispute

     In the United States each year, in 5,000 bank robberies, robbers walk off with roughly $43 million. While in the past few years, the U.S. bank robbery rate has increased a bit, there are far less bank heists today than the years 1967-1990. In New York city, there were only 26 bank robberies in 2010, a record low. Last year 44 banks were hit in the Big Apple, still an amazingly small number.

     While bank robbery is both a state and federal crime, the FBI is usually the principal investigative agency in these cases. As a result, most bank robbery suspects are tried in federal court, and if found guilty, go to federal prison. Compared to crimes like burglary, street mugging, and arson, bank robbery solution rates are traditionally high. One reason for this is that bank robbers usually don't stop after their first job, and eventually get caught. Also, a lot of them are either drunk, drugged up, or stupid.

     In New York City, over the past 32 years, bank robberies in the five boroughs have been investigated by the Joint Bank Robbery Task Force staffed by FBI agents and detectives with the NYPD. The city contributed one sergeant and six investigators to the unit. Last year, the FBI only solved one-third of its New York City cases. In 2010, members of the task force solved 80 percent of the bank robberies.

     In explaining the poor case solution rate, an FBI spokesperson blamed the NYPD for withdrawing from the task force in March 2011. Officials with the NYPD, while denying that the personnel shift explains the poor investigative results, say they cannot justify wasting the manpower on so few cases. These officers are needed elsewhere. When the task force was formed in 1980, hundreds of banks were being robbed in the city every year.

     The behind the scenes inter-agency sniping over this issue has heightened tensions between the FBI and NYPD already in a turf war over a couple of terrorism cases. In law enforcement, it's an unfortunate reality that professional jealousy and rivalry has always existed between federal and local, city and county, and state and municipal agencies. Within the federal government, there is tension and conflict between various agencies within the Department of Homeland Security. And the FBI and CIA have never worked well together.

     While inter-agency friction is understandable within a criminal justice system comprised of so many levels of government, it will continue to be a problem that can't be fixed by simply rearranging organizational charts, or adding more layers of bureaucracy.



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