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'No Hats, No Hoods, No Sunglasses': Program Aims to Cut Bank Robberies

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CEDAR RAPIDS - The FBI says robbers have hit 193 banks or credit unions here over the past five years.

Their disguise has changed. But bank robbers are still in business of making off with your money.

Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine says, "It's just a method of masking your identity, which makes it tougher for law enforcement to figure out who you are."

Chief Hargadine took his current post after leaving the force in Columbia, Missouri. The bordering state to our south saw a 30% increase in bank robberies during his time there, before its Bankers and Credit Union Associations began backing a program to curb the crime.

Now about half of all financial institutions there voluntarily hang signs on their doors to control customers' dress code.

No Hats, No Hoods, No Sunglasses, virtually nixing the new mask for the modern day robber.

"It's not going to be a cure-all. It's not something that's going to keep somebody from coming in. It's just a deterant like any other security measure is," says Betty Clark with the Missouri Credit Union Association.

But this deterant brought real results. From 125 robberies before it went into effect, to 83 the year after. Eventually dropping to 70

A significant drop and seeming success, however some places have had some major problems with the program.

Cheryl Jarvis, vice president at First National Bank in Hargadine's old hometown of Columbia, found some cancer patients and people of certain religious faiths didn't like the new restrictions.

Now, her tellers don't approach people who disobey the sign.

"We do it quietly. We're not forceful with it. We don't say, you have to take your hat off. But we just try to pay more attention to those people," said Jarvis.

Still, some of those people turned out to be robbers. Of the five First National experienced after implementing the program, a few were wearing hats or hoods.

But Jarvis says relaxing the rule instead of removing it has probably done more good than bad, "We don't know the number of people who have walked up to the door and said, hmm, I'm going to go some place else, but we like to think that there's some."

Over the past year, robbers hit 13 banks and credit unions in eastern Iowa's metro areas. All but one wore something to cover their head or face.

Hargadine says he's holding his breath, because his city wasn't part of that number.

Now, his biggest worry, when it comes to banks, is the winter, when the temperature can drop to 30 below zero.

"I see a lot of people walking around in ski masks. It's cold out there. I just walked to my car and sometimes I wish I had a ski mask," noted Hargadine.

He found this multitude of different disguises the greatest challenge in bringing the program from his past north to Iowa.

But when he heard of its success, "Absolutely, I think it would be a very worthwhile program for this area."

Now, this spring, Hargadine plans to begin new community policing efforts.

After addressing the program's problems, he says No Hats, No Hoods, No Sunglasses could be Iowa City's next step in stopping this age-old financial crime.

The FBI tells TV9, there's a push to implement this program at all FDIC institutions in the nation, but it might be a while for that becomes a reality.

A few financial institutions in eastern Iowa have similar programs. We found Missouri is already among nine entire states participating in such a program.

A majority of individual banks or credit unions in five other states are also taking similar steps.

Click here for a behind the scenes look at this story in Josh's blog, Living Off The Air

We've also made a map with photos of the bank robberies in eastern Iowa during 2008.

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View Larger Map                                                                                                                             (blue=banks red=credit unions)

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