BANK robberies are on the rise in Slovakia. From the beginning of this year 18 banks were robbed, and only three cases were solved.
This figure represents a significant increase compared with 2003 when five bank robberies occurred and seven banks were burgled the previous year. So far this year there has been a bank robbery almost every two weeks.
According to the Slovak police more than Sk10 million (€241,302) has been stolen this year from banks targeted by robbers. Fortunately, no people have yet been injured. While the robberies have taken place throughout Slovakia, most have occured in the capital Bratislava.
Almost all of the bank groups operating in Slovakia have become victims of this upward trend: VÚB, Unibanka, Poštová banka, OTP, Tatra banka, and Slovenská sporiteľňa. VÚB bank has been targeted the most with six incidents of robbery this year. The amounts of money stolen have ranged from Sk200,000 (€4,826) to several million crowns.
The police, however, have implied that it is also the banks themselves who should share part of the responsibility, as their security measures in branches were not always adequate.
According to Vladimír Gemela from the Police Presidium, cost cutting is to blame. He said banks, in their efforts to save money, often employ people under 21 years of age, who are not allowed to hold arms as a security guard.
He told the daily Národná obroda that it is nonsense that one bank branch is guarded just by one safety worker.
Banks, on the other hand, say that they use the most modern and up-to-date electronic security systems, and stress that their role is not to catch criminals. They can only closely cooperate with the police, which is what they are doing.
"Tatra banka invests enough money for ensuring the safety of its clients and employees. Security technologies that a bank uses are the most modern. There is a difference between what a bank can do and what is the role of the police," said Roman Začka, PR director of Tatra banka.
"The proof of our above-standard involvement in eliminating bank robberies is perhaps our latest initiative when we promised a reward of 150 percent of the amount of money robbed for information leading to revealing the trespasser," he added.
Silvia Nosálová, spokeswoman for VÚB, thinks that banks do use efficient security measures.
"It is an electronic alarm system directly connected to the police. After activating the alarm police are able to arrive at the bank within several minutes. There are also camera systems and security guards on duty. Our bank uses the combination of these systems," she stressed.
Additionally, bank personnel are usually trained to react to a possible robbery situation, where the emphasis is on safety.
"Employees of our branches are trained and have enough information about what to do in such crisis situations. The safety of our clients and employees is always paramount. We do not wish anyone, apart from the police, to strike during a robbery.
"We wish that most robbers who endanger decent citizens and bank property should spend many years where they belong - in a prison," emphasised Začka.
In light of this recent situation, the Police Presidium created a commission of representatives from the police, security firms, and the Ministry of Home Affairs. "Its duty was to propose measures for eliminating bank robberies," Marta Bujňáková from the police press department told The Slovak Spectator.
She continued: "The commission addressed officials of banks operating in Slovakia with the aim of involving them in creating of efficient personnel, and implementing technical and organisational measures designed to encourage the elimination of any further increase of such criminal conduct."
The police have also held talks with the Slovak Bank Association, the National Bank of Slovakia, individual banks as well as with Association of Insurance Houses in Slovakia.
The commission proposed amendments in the Act on banks as well as the Act on the protection of personal data. The changes should guarantee that every bank branch will be connected to the police alarm system and CCTV camera systems, enabling the identification of intruders.
Premises dealing with large cash transactions should be protected by bullet-proof glass and physically overseen by security guards.
"Given certain media reports some individuals may get the impression that a bank robbery is an easy task, when in reality this is not the case. Robbers risk their future because of the prospect of stealing several thousands crowns.
"Maybe if you made a quick poll of those in prison for 15 years for committing such a crime you would hear the word 'regret'. Unfortunately for them it is too late," Začka summarised.