It was a year of high-profile bank robberies in Calgary, including a heist committed by a former university student union president and a theft that had bankers offering a $10,000 reward for the capture of a criminal dubbed Old Man Winter.
But despite a number of the headline-grabbing crimes, police say their statistics reveal a different story: a remarkable 50 per cent drop in bank robberies in 2012.
Including banks and fast-cash loan stores, there were more than 50 heists at financial institutions in 2011 — a number that has since been cut in half.
“I can remember years where we had 60 or 70 bank robberies in a year,” said Acting Staff Sgt. Stu Keown of the Calgary Police Service’s robbery unit.
Keown attributes the decrease to catching robbers earlier on their sprees. Instead of single robbers hitting as many as a dozen banks, they’re identified and caught earlier before they can victimize others.
“Some of what’s happened this year is we’ve been lucky, … or we’ve had good work by us or the guys on the street,” Keown said.
“Maybe, cross your fingers, criminals are finally starting to realize that robbing a bank is a really poor proposition for making money.”
Making matters easier for investigators, financial institutions have made big strides in improving surveillance in the digital age, police say.
“In the old days, we used to have the VHS tapes, and now pretty well every bank has a digital surveillance system, which provides a much sharper image,” Keown said.
The most notable case of the past year saw the former president of the Students Association of Mount Royal University rob a Servus Credit Union. She was quickly arrested.
Meghan Melnyk pleaded guilty in court and blamed a gambling addiction for her actions. A sentencing date has been set for April.
In October, the Canadian Bankers Association offered a $10,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of a man dubbed the Old Man Winter Bandit because of his age and the season he typically strikes. At the time, police said he was responsible for 10 heists in Western Canada — including two in Calgary — and had eluded them for three years.
In November, police made an arrest in the case.
Leonard Richard Collins, 46, was charged with nine counts of robbery and two counts of theft under $5,000.
And in February, police say a gun was fired in a robbery of a Royal Bank in Signal Hill. Police said it was the first time in years a shot was fired during a bank holdup.
Police filmed a Crime Stoppers re-enactment of the incident but have not made an arrest in the case.
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