Banks robbed in good, bad times

Just few days after Christmas, a man threatened to harm bank tellers and fled with sacks of cash from American Community Credit Union in Grand Junction.

That suspect is at large, and police to the east can add a couple more names to the list.

Nearly two weeks later, two men cloaked in black ski masks and with guns drawn burst into a Battlement Mesa convenience store before making off with cash.

During 2008, a Grand Junction man is suspected of periodically robbing a bank, a liquor store, Wal-Mart and a video store, at times after his landlord pressed him for rent money.

James Jones, 48, is being prosecuted on those charges.

Although 2008 was marked by a general decrease in crime locally, police around the nation blame the faltering economy for na increase in bank and store heists elsewhere.

Local numbers available so far through November 2008 show the city and county maintaining its normal number of armed robberies.

“The jury’s out still on whether we’re going to see an increase in this,” Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said. “We wouldn’t be surprised if we did. It’s just a little too early to say.”

On Dec. 15, Vallario’s deputies and Glenwood Springs police responded to an armed robbery at a Glenwood Springs branch Alpine Bank. A suspect, 27-year-old Jeffrey Smith, was arrested by the FBI in connection with the heist after Smith was linked to another armed robbery days later in a Las Vegas casino.

Vallario doesn’t think Smith’s case is related to a sputtering economy, because some of Smith’s family members have said Smith has a gambling addiction.

An FBI report cited a significant surge of bank robberies during the fourth quarter of 2007.

Most were committed between 9 and 11 a.m. Fridays.

Grand Junction had 12 reported armed robberies in 2007 and the same number in 2008 through November, according to the Police Department. Officers responded to 21 unarmed robberies in 2007 and 17 unarmed robberies in 2008 through November.

Sgt. Tony Clayton said a sputtering economy might spur folks to commit some crimes, but that it won’t turn a law-abiding resident into a criminal.

“It kind of boils down to moral and ethical makeup of the community,” he said. “Someone in desperate times may go steal bread and meat from the grocery store, but there’s no way they’re going to rob a bank. It’s two different animals.”

Clayton said in good or bad economic times, officers respond to a fair number of reports of gas skips, petty thefts, robberies and shoplifting. Bank robberies tend to be less common in Grand Junction, he said, and when they occur,  a suspect’s motivation tends to be to get quick cash to satisfy a drug or alcohol habit.

In Mesa County, deputies responded to 15 robberies in 2007 and 15 during 2008, Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said. She said most suspects cite drug-related reasons for committing robberies.


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