There were more bank robberies in the state last year than at any time in the past decade, according to FBI crime statistics released this fall. Half of all bank robberies in New Hampshire happened in Manchester.
Out of a total of 36 bank robberies in 2015, 18 were committed in the Queen City, seven in Nashua and two in Concord. The remaining nine happened in nine different communities, including Bedford, Salem and Keene.
Since 2005, the annual total of bank robbery cases have hovered between 17 and 33, but between 2012 and 2015, incidents increased each year by more than 70 percent over that three-year period.
This is despite the fact that overall robberies — in additional places like highways, gas stations, homes, chains stores and businesses like liquor stores and restaurants — have gone down in New Hampshire by 14 percent and New England by 10 percent. And while robberies have gone up slightly nationwide, bank robberies have declined in the U.S. by 2.5 percent.
This appears to make New Hampshire the exception to the rule, and the widespread addiction epidemic centered on dangerous opioids like heroin and fentanyl is the likely culprit.
“There is no question those under the influence of a controlled or illegal drug is correlated with robberies,” Christiana Thornton, the president and CEO of the New Hampshire Bankers Association, wrote in an email.
Thornton pointed to a 2014 FBI study that found 40 percent of all bank robbers were identified as narcotics users.
In Manchester, crime analysts don’t have a solid percentage of how many were committed by individuals motivated by drug addiction. But anecdotally, it’s well over 50 percent.
“My experience here in Manchester has been that the vast majority of the people that we have robbing banks are doing so to feed addictions,” said Capt. Ryan Grant, the head of the Manchester Police Investigative Division. “It’s hard to quantify it because we don’t always have hard and fast information.”
Manchester saw a slight decrease in robberies between 2014 and 2015 from 109 to 103. More than 17 percent of the city’s robberies were in banks. Besides the high concentration of drug activity in the Queen City, its urban characteristics may also be playing a role. According to the 2014 FBI study, about 2,500 of nearly 4,000 bank holdups took place in commercial districts and the vast majority happen in metropolitan areas or small cities.
Thornton said the banking community continues to follow the industry’s best practices to deal with robberies, which include employee training, keeping cash box levels low and engaging with customers in the lobby.
“Banks continue to search for new ways to prevent robberies. However, their best strategy is still to make sure employees are trained and security systems are in place and working properly,” Thornton said.
While last year saw a record high after three years of consecutive increases, there may be signs of the issue plateauing. Grant said there have been fewer banker robberies in Manchester to date this year than the city saw in 2015.
“So it looks like our numbers are going to be down a bit for this year,” Grant said.