Pervasive Mask-Wearing Poses Problem for Bank Security
The Austin Police Department’s Robbery Unit is investigating a slew of new bank and jewelry store robberies all involving suspects who walked in wearing masks intended to prevent the spread of disease.
Local authorities made mask-wearing mandatory starting April 14, though an order from the governor later in the month eliminated civil and criminal penalties for failing to wear one. The continuing prevalence of face coverings poses a challenge to bank security and investigators as they seek to deter and track down perpetrators.
In the most recent incident on May 21, two suspects wearing surgical masks entered an IBC Bank off I-35, presented a note and demanded money. Austin Police say the suspects may have fled the scene in a silver or gray sedan.
In another incident on May 14, a suspect entered a North Austin branch of Woodforest National Bank wearing a “medical-style mask,” according to a police notice. He presented a note demanding money and fled on foot.
APD are investigating with the FBI Central Texas Violent Crime Task Force. The suspect is described as an hispanic male, estimated to be 5′ 7", described as “young looking” and of medium build.
Earlier in the month, a jewelry store was targeted by a man wearing a white surgical mask. He walked into the Diamond Mart on Manor Road on May 6 and threatened a store employee with a handgun while demanding money. The same suspect walked into tobacco shop on East Riverside drive on May 10 and again threatened a store employee with a handgun.
Police said the suspect in those cases was an hispanic or light-skinned black male, 5'6" to 5'8" tall, estimated to be between 20 and 30 years of age, and with diamond studs in both ears.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which regulates federally insured bank branches, cited concerns about face masks in a May 7 document about the impact of COVID-19 on banks.
“How should a bank handle customers wearing masks coming into a branch?” the document asked. “It may be difficult to distinguish between a customer and a bank robber. The FDIC encourages financial institutions to provide appropriate training to staff and to take appropriate measures to maintain the security of their staff as well as their customers.”
“Local law enforcement should be contacted whenever staff is concerned about individuals on bank premises.”
Originally published at https://www.honestaustin.com on May 23, 2020.