By Jennifer Mayerle

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – During the unrest that followed George Floyd’s death, rioters set fires and looted stores. Vandals also burglarized ATMs, a crime that’s up in Minnesota this year.

A long-time FBI agent shared what drives thieves and bank robbers, and how the community helps solve these crimes.

Bank heists are glamorized in the movies with a coordinated crew of criminals like in “Oceans 11,” or the 1991 film “Point Break.” And while organized crews do exist, FBI Agent John Gainer says it’s more common to see robbers working solo.

“We find people that are in a desperate situation is the typical type of person that gets involved in a bank robbery,” Gainer said.

Suspected bank robbers run the gamut in Minnesota, from a range of backgrounds. Although historically more are men than women.

Gainer says they often find a gambling or substance addiction as the motivation.

“That person needs money right now either for that gambling habit or to obtain the drugs they need,” Gainer said.

That can lead to a hastily written note passed to a teller. The FBI calls them “note jobs.”

“They might say I have a gun, they typically will say ‘no bait bills’ if it’s a person that’s been experienced, they’ll say ‘no police’ and ‘give me the money right now’ or ‘I’m going to hurt you,’” Gainer said.

Many notes look alike. Serial bank robbers use similar language like: “This is a holdup and I have a gun.”

Bank employees are advised to comply with the demands.

“There is no amount of money in this world that is worth somebody’s life,” Gainer said.

Gainer has dedicated his 25-year FBI career to arresting bank robbers. He says it’s crucial to catch them quickly to ensure community safety.

“While we say it’s a note job and there may be no display of the weapon, we don’t know if the person has a weapon or not, people in desperate situations do desperate things,” Gainer said.

While desperation drives the bank robber, Gainer says opportunity led to ATM burglaries.

“It’s the right time, right moment where that person thinks they can get this and get away with it,” Gainer said.

Gainer says that’s what happened in late May when 40 ATM’s were hit.

“People took advantage of the unrest that was occurring to both vandalize and burglarize the ATMS as they existed in the community,” Gainer said.

And while technology has assisted with surveillance and recognition, Gainer says it’s traditional investigative work that leads to a suspect.

The public can be the greatest asset.

“Whether it be a car, a partial tag, a description of the person, a direction of the person,” Gainer said.

It takes time to survey and stop a bank robber or to identify and track an ATM burglar.

“While we wish it would be in the one hour just like in a TV Show, it’s typically extended over several weeks of teamwork piecing together all the information that leads us to a person we believe is the most probably suspect,” Gainer said.

The FBI is still trying to identify a number of people connected to the ATM burglaries in May. If you have any information, contact 1-800-CALL-FBI or submit a tip online.

Jennifer Mayerle