FBI would back ban on hats and shades in banks

SEATTLE — The FBI would support state legislation to ban most hats and sunglasses in banks as an anti-holdup measure, an agent said.

While the FBI is not drafting or proposing such a measure, agents could provide statistics and other information on how that sort of dress code in banks would assist authorities in identifying and prosecuting robbers, agent Roberta Burroughs told The Associated Press on Friday.

“We’re certainly not in the position of trying influence what (state) legislators might do in this area,” said Burroughs, spokeswoman for the local FBI office.

Washington state perennially ranks among the top 10 nationwide in bank robberies but has experienced a reduction this year, Burroughs said.

She and agent Larry Carr, head of the office’s bank robbery division, said most bank robbers wear a hat, sunglasses or hooded sweatshirt to conceal their faces from surveillance video cameras, which typically are mounted high on a wall.

“Even if you zoom in, all you’re getting is the tighter picture of a baseball cap,” Carr told a Seattle newspaper. “Banks can spend billions of dollars on surveillance systems, and it’s meaningless.”

Carr told the paper he would work with legislators if they develop a measure that would bar banks from doing business with anyone wearing a hat or sunglasses inside a bank, except for medical or religious reasons.

The Washington Bankers Association considered pushing for such a law last year but dropped the idea because members decided it should be left to individual banks, said James Pishue, president and executive director of the group.

Customers in many banks already are asked to remove hats and sunglasses before approaching tellers, but customers often do not comply and some bank employees do not enforce the policy, bank officials said.

In another approach, said Shannon Ridout, vice president of security at Anchor Bank, said many banks have begun heeding Carr’s advice to lower their surveillance cameras to provide better images of robbers’ faces. At Anchor Bank and at All City Credit Union, the cameras are now six feet off the floor.

“I needed to get those cameras down so I could get decent shots,” Ridout said. “I needed to get underneath those hats.”

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