Robbin’ Hood–the armed robberies in Oregon

Submitted by Kay Helbling  


Many of us with teenagers have shared the concern of a robbery taking place at the corner retail store or gas station where they are working some of their first jobs. This year is certainly no exception. By mid-year, USA Today had reported a 10% increase in armed robberies across the country. By June, Washington State had already matched last year’s figures. Drug issues were indicated as the primary reason, but it has been compounded by a worsening economy.


So how does Oregon figure into the picture? In the past few months, it seemed an armed robbery was cited in a newspaper somewhere in the state almost daily. With Christmas break presenting another employment opportunity for my sons, I decided to take a more objective look at Oregon’s figures.
The statistics department of Oregon’s LEDS (Law Enforcement Data System) reports the state doing better than most. In the first 9 months of the year, which are the latest compiled figures available, the armed robberies report in at about 1,724. Extrapolated, that would put us at 2,298 by the end of the year. Not only are they happening daily, those figures indicate there are, on average, six armed robberies each day. Concerning, yet comfortably below the 2007 figures of 2,889 and in stark contrast to the 5,000’s we were seeing in late 80’s. 


Here’s a small sample of the armed robberies in financial institutions up and down the Willamette Valley:


January 10, Washington Federal Savings Bank, Corvallis (left his fingerprints on the demand note)

January 12-16, Wells Fargo & U.S. Bank, Portland (Pearl District)

April 24, Wells Fargo, (a female)

May 30, Wells Fargo, Salem (violent take-over robbery with $25,000 reward available)

June 20, Key Bank, Tigard (dye on the money will find robber with wallet full of red bills)

June 20, Washington Mutual Bank in a Fred Meyer

August 8, Sept 10, Nov. 4, triple bank robbery of Umpqua Bank, Eugene (teller bomb threat)

November 28, U.S. Bank, Salem


As robbers become notorious they are given a “name” based on a distinguishing characteristic. Such was the case with the “Waddling (overweight) Bandit”, who pled guilty this year to 30 robberies stretching from Medford to Kelso, Washington. Still at large is the “Mullet Man”, wanted for two robberies and three attempted robberies in Portland, Vancouver and Tualatin between October 6-8, 2008.                  


Unfortunately, armed robberies in the state have not been confined to financial institutions. There are in-home invasions and numerous retail business establishments where money is demanded at gunpoint. To name a few, the Bakery & Tacos in Lafayette; Great Clips in Newberg; El Palmar, Daisy’s Mexican Bakery, and El Torito Market in Salem; a cab driver in Salem; Healthy Looks Salon and Dotty’s Deli in Oregon City.                                          


There have been four armed robberies in just the past week. In Eugene, a University of Oregon student was arrested after holding up Mazzi’s Restaurant with a toy gun. In Corvallis, Key Bank, then Washington Federal Savings and on Tuesday the Mexican Bakery.                   


Bank robbers of years gone by are painted with a bit of nostalgia. There’s the “romantic” escapades of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. As well as the “heroism” of Pretty Boy Floyd who Woodie Guthrie describes as a hero to the poor farmers. They gave him food and shelter. In return for their hospitality, they’d find their mortgage had been paid off or a thousand-dollar bill left on the dinner table.                                                            


Ballads such as these helped the victims of the Depression vocalize their anger against banks. But, ballads are not reality and there is nothing nostalgic, romantic, or heroic about the drug addicts of today. They are dangerous and disturbing criminals no matter what catchy name they are given. So, if  faced with a robbery situation, being alert and smart is not only important to keep you safe, it could also put the criminal behind bars.


Law enforcement agencies across the country say, first and foremost, let the guy have what he wants. The sooner he gets it, the sooner he’ll go away. Do not panic. Do not resist. Look for distinguishing characteristics such as color of hair & eyes, hair style, scars, marks, tattoos, limps, or accents. Remember any words spoken by the robber and everything they touch. Estimate the height and weight of the attacker by using something in the room as a guideline. If they have a weapon, assume it is loaded and remember the weapon so you can describe it to the police later.


Tell the robber about anything that might surprise him, such as someone who is expected to arrive soon. If you have to move or reach, tell the robber what you are going to do and why. When they leave, make note of the vehicle used, the number of people in the vehicle and the direction of travel. While waiting for the police, lock the doors and do not touch anything. Save anything they may have left behind. Do not discuss the crime with other witnesses. Everyone should make individual notes while they have it fresh in their minds.                                                   


As we and our families head off to work, we can rest in the comfort of knowing Oregon’s crime statistics are down, rather than on the rise as is the case in many states. Also, we are empowered with the advice of experts should the situation arise. So, now my only concern is getting the boys up in the morning to get to work on time!


Kay was an insurance adjuster and executive for 15 years, a small business owner and a teacher for 10. But, her most fulfilling work has been as a mother of her two boys. She is now looking forward to an empty nest with her best friend—her husband



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