The External Effects of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Reprioritization Efforts
(Redacted for Public Release)
Audit Report 05-37
Office of the Inspector General
Another area in which the FBI has reduced its efforts is the investigation of bank robberies. Both FBI and non-FBI officials agreed that the FBI is no longer addressing bank robberies at the same level as in the past. Many of the state and local law enforcement representatives we interviewed also cited the FBI’s reduced involvement in this area.
The FBI has sole jurisdiction among federal law enforcement agencies to investigate bank robberies.60 In addition, the offense can be investigated by local law enforcement agencies. In March 2001, FBI Headquarters implemented a “measured response” initiative designed to scale back the number of FBI bank robbery investigations. The initiative stated that a “measured response in no way means no response.” It is also important to note that the FBI’s initial decision to reduce its efforts related to bank robberies was announced prior to 9/11 and the FBI’s reprioritization. The initiative described the circumstances in which the FBI would continue to aggressively respond, which were: (1) violent bank robberies (e.g., a weapon was displayed or a gang-related robbery); (2) robberies in which a significant financial loss occurred; or (3) situations involving serial robbers and/or criminal organizations that cross jurisdictional boundaries.
After 9/11 and the FBI’s resulting reprioritization, the “measured response” initiative continues to exist and has been reiterated in memoranda disseminated to FBI field offices on several occasions. During our site visits, many FBI officials remarked that the FBI currently investigates only violent or takeover-style bank robberies. For “note jobs” (a non-violent bank robbery in which a note is used), the FBI opens a case, inputs information obtained from local law enforcement regarding the incident into its analytical database, and closes the case immediately thereafter. According to these FBI officials, the FBI does not conduct an actual investigation in these types of bank robberies.
In contrast, FBI officials at some offices stated that they continue to respond and investigate all bank robberies, although fewer agents are sent to investigate each incident than in the past. FBI officials in these districts said it was important to work these cases because it helped strengthen relationships with state and local partners.
According to the FBI’s TURK system, the actual number of agents handling bank robberies decreased by nearly 30 percent between FYs 2000 and 2004. Specifically, an average of 316 agents handled these cases in FY 2000 compared to 225 agents in FY 2004. Exhibit 8‑1 illustrates the changes that occurred within the field offices we visited. Each office, except New York City, experienced an agent utilization reduction in bank robbery matters.
According to FBI casework data, the FBI opened 1,067 more bank robbery cases during FY 2004 than in FY 2000. This increase is primarily a result of the FBI opening a case file for each bank robbery committed for the purpose of inputting all incidents into its analytical database. In reviewing the number of case serials inputted for bank robbery cases, the FBI actually decreased its bank robbery effort by 19 percent between FYs 2000 and 2004. We consider the casework serial figures and the FBI agent utilization data more reflective of the FBI’s actual investigative efforts in this area, since case openings for bank robbery matters does not necessarily reflect any actual investigation on the FBI’s part.
The FBI’s decreased involvement in bank robbery investigations resulted in it referring fewer such matters to the USAOs. In total, the FBI forwarded 10 percent fewer bank robbery matters to the USAOs since FY 2000, decreasing referrals from 2,019 in FY 2000 to 1,809 in FY 2004. In both FYs 2000 and 2004, the FBI contributed 98 percent of the bank robbery matters received by the USAOs.
The majority of the officials we interviewed at state and local law enforcement agencies commented about the FBI’s reduced involvement in bank robbery investigations since 9/11. For example, officials at the Scottsdale, Arizona, Police Department and Tucson, Arizona, Police Department stated that the FBI's response to bank robberies is probably the most noticeable reduction that has occurred and that this reduction has created a marked void. The officials at these two local agencies said that the FBI’s reprioritization has placed an extra burden on many of the local agencies who now must handle an increased bank robbery caseload.
Officials at other state and local departments commented that the FBI continues to assist on bank robbery cases. Many of these cases involved armed or serial perpetrators and therefore the FBI’s participation was in line with the FBI Headquarters “measured response” guidelines issued in March 2001. For example, officials at the West Palm Beach, Florida, Police Department remarked that the FBI was very much involved in the investigation of a recent string of bank robberies that occurred in the city.
Officials from the Ventura County, California, District Attorney’s Office and the Ventura County, California, Sheriff’s Department told us that each local law enforcement agency in the county had noticed an almost complete withdrawal of FBI involvement in traditional crime matters, especially bank robberies. Ventura County officials cited several specific bank robberies that the FBI failed to assist local law enforcement agencies with the investigations. For example, the Ventura County officials cited a string of liquor store robberies in Ventura County in December 2004. Subsequent to the liquor store robberies, the same suspects robbed banks located in five different grocery stores, taking over the entire building each time. In each incident the assailants were armed with automatic weapons. In March 2005, the suspects were apprehended by local law enforcement officers while attempting to rob one of the grocery store banks a second time. The investigation revealed that the suspects were conducting their criminal activities in at least three counties, using money laundering to purchase real estate in and out of the state.
Ventura County officials stressed to us that the FBI was not involved in the investigation of any of these incidents, even though these bank robbery cases involved at least two of the criteria specifically articulated in the FBI’s “measured response” initiative for bank robbery investigations. We discussed this matter with FBI officials in the Los Angeles Division who reported that they were unaware of the situation and agreed to look into the issue.
The results of our web-based survey shed additional light on the impact that the FBI’s shift in investigative priorities has had on state and local law enforcement agencies’ efforts to investigate bank robberies. Overall, approximately 10 percent of respondents (128 out of 1,232 responses) responded that their agency’s operations were negatively affected to some degree by the FBI’s reduced involvement in bank robbery investigations. Approximately 9 percent of participants (107 out of 1,232 responses) indicated a positive effect of the FBI’s reprioritization on their investigative efforts, while the remaining responses noted either no impact or were inapplicable.
Several USAO representatives commented that the FBI has not investigated bank robbery cases as much as it had in the past. For example, USAO officials from the Southern District of Florida noted fewer bank robbery cases were brought to the USAO by the FBI. As a result, these officials reported that they are considering a new initiative under which certain cases investigated by local law enforcement could be referred for federal prosecution. USAO representatives in the Southern District of New York also observed a decrease in the number of bank robbery cases the FBI investigated over the past 4 years. The Assistant U.S. Attorneys we interviewed in New York also noted that there has not been a decrease in the number of bank robberies in their jurisdiction, and they said they would like to see more FBI resources allocated to investigate these cases because federal courts have more severe sentences than state courts.
Some FBI Headquarters and field officials commented that state and local law enforcement agencies are fully capable of handling most bank robbery investigations, especially the larger police and sheriff’s departments.
Both FBI and non-FBI officials agreed that the FBI was no longer addressing bank robberies as aggressively as it had prior to 9/11. These statements were corroborated by our analyses of FBI data, which revealed that the FBI used fewer agents on such matters in FY 2004 than in FY 2000. According to state and local officials, the primary effect of the FBI’s reduced role in bank robberies was an increase in their caseloads. In a few instances, we were informed of bank robbery caseloads that were exceeding state and local law enforcement capabilities.