Between 1985 and 1995, Los Angeles’ retail bank branches were robbed some 17,106 times. In 1992, which was the the city’s worst year for robberies, the number was 2,641. This roughly translated into about one bank robbery every 45 minutes of each banking day. All of this, according to this CrimeReads piece by Peter Houlahan, gave Los Angeles the dubious title of “The Bank Robbery Capital of the World” during this time period.
So what caused this? Well according to Peter it was facilitated by two phenomenons. One is indigenous to Los Angeles and the other was a result of the party scene that started to emerge in the city in the late 1970s during the disco era. Peter argues that this spike in robberies was the result of (1) the city’s sprawling car-oriented urban landscape and (2) its widespread use of cocaine at this time.
The former allowed robbers to quickly flee the scene (many banks were located near highway on-ramps) and the latter is what seemed to motivate people to actually do it. They needed a way to fund their addictions. By the early 1990s, it was estimated that up to 85% of all bank robbers in Los Angeles were suffering from some sort of drug addiction, and the surveillance photos seemed to reinforce this. Repeat offenders were noted as looking progressively worse.
But what’s perhaps most interesting to this blog audience is point number one. To what extend did the built form of the city actually facilitate this kind of behavior? Surely Los Angeles wasn’t the only place that started enjoying disco music, and some other things. And so did bank robberies, in a way, get coupled to the city’s labyrinthian freeway network? Was this the cover that robbers needed to make them feel like they weren’t going to get caught?
For Peter’s full story, click here.