According to The Town, the Ben Affleck crime drama released in theaters today, there are over 300 bank robberies in Boston each year. The movie poster portrays masked robbers wielding weapons in nun costumes with the tagline, “Welcome to the Bank Robbery Capital of America,” hanging ominously above them.
Is Boston really the bank robbery capital of America?
“The statistics speak for themselves,” says Special Agent Gail Marcinkiewicz, FBI Media Spokesperson. FBI reports show that, for the past seven years, the state of Massachusetts has seen 200–300 incidents of bank crime each year, although the number of those cases occurring in the Boston area is unknown.
These incidents include robberies, burglaries, larcenies, and extortions. According to Marcinkiewicz, “most are straight-forward note jobs,” in which a note demanding money is passed to the teller.
The FBI Bank Robberies archive (http://www.fbi.gov/page2/feb10/robberies_022310.html) states that “bank robbery methods are as novel and varied as the monikers used to label them. But in the end, the most common approach is to step up to a teller and make a demand verbally, with a written note, or both.”
Not all cases, however, are that simple. Marcinkiewicz adds, “we have seen an increase in weapons shown or threatened.” Between April and July this year, one man known as the “Burly Bandit” robbed 10 banks in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. According to an FBI press release in July, “he has made threats to kill the bank tellers and has brandished a weapon,” and so was considered armed and dangerous. Robert Ferguson, a 47-year-old Greyhound bus driver arrested last month, is suspected of being the Burly Bandit; on Monday, he pleaded not guilty in federal court, according to WBZ-TV.
New England had 406 bank robberies in 2008, compared to 309 in 2009. Massachusetts claimed 286 of the 2008 cases and only 180 of the 2009 cases. There was no data specifically available for the Boston area. Still, it seems Boston, or even the Northeast, is not quite the proposed mecca for bank robberies. About a third of the 2009 bank robberies took place in the South whereas the Northeast accounted for one-sixth of US bank robberies in 2009. In 2008, the South claimed one-third of bank robberies whereas the Northeast claimed one-fifth.
Although Massachusetts is the top New England state when it comes to bank crime, claiming 100-200 more incidents each year than its New England neighbors, larger states such as New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Florida, and California far outweigh the Bay State in terms of bank robberies.
Reacting to the movie’s claim that most robbers call Charlestown their home, Marcinkiewicz said, “it’s very difficult to generalize.” The FBI’s job, she says, is to collect evidence and get criminals off the street. Authorities don’t know personal information until after perpetrators are arrested.
While the trailer, which showed before the movie Inception in most theaters this summer, features aggressive, costumed crooks and explosions, the FBI reports that only 4 percent of bank robberies, burglaries, and larcenies in the US include acts of violence; hostages were taken in only 47 of the approximately 6,000 cases in 2009. Thieves accessed bank vaults in only 29 incidents whereas explosives were used in only 193 cases in 2009. All of the 21 deaths linked to bank crime in 2009 were those of the perpetrators themselves.
Although based on a fictional story, the production crew worked to make this a realistic movie. According to the production notes, “The Town” was mostly filmed on location in Charlestown, the North End, Cambridge, and Fenway Park, the scene of the movie’s action climax. On Tuesday, the film premiered in the famous ballpark; about 1,770 guests watched the movie on a giant screen over the third-base dugout.
The story, based on Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves, follows a group of Beantown thieves, including Doug MacRay, played by Cambridge-native Affleck, as they dodge the Feds and deal with a bank manager from an earlier heist.
“We did a ton of research,” Affleck said in the production notes. “We went to prisons and talked to former bank robbers and also met with guys at the FBI who were counterpoints to Agent Frawley, the character played by Jon Hamm. We started incorporating what we learned into the architecture of the story to bring in as much detail and verisimilitude as we could.”
Over the last year, Marcinkiewicz said the FBI did a lot of work with the film’s production company. This is certainly not the first time Hollywood asked for help from the Boston division of the FBI. The FBI similarly provided assistance to the producer of the movie Surrogates, a 2009 futuristic sci-fi thriller filmed in Massachusetts about people who live through their robotic surrogates.
According to Warner Brothers, “a number of real police officers also participated in some of the action scenes, which brought added veracity to the proceedings.”
“The Boston Police, the local FBI office and other police departments in the vicinity really opened their doors to us,” executive producer David Crockett said in the production notes. “We had a lot of assistance from all levels of law enforcement.”