A year ago, the New York Police Department pulled its six detectives from the Joint Bank Robbery Task Force, the combined F.B.I./Police Department unit that for more than 30 years had handled armed bank robberies in the city.
It was disbanded, in part, because bank robberies had dwindled. And some law enforcement officials wondered whether Phil Pulaski, the Police Department’s chief of detectives, wanted a tighter rein over six detectives assigned to work from federal offices at 26 Federal Plaza.
When the unit was formed in 1979, there were 319 armed bank robberies — robberies involving guns, bombs or threats of them — in New York. By 2010, that figure had fallen to 26.
But in 2011, armed bank robberies increased to 44.
More significantly, the clearance rate for these cases -– police parlance for how many are closed –- has plummeted since the New York Police Department’s pullout, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Of the 44 bank robbery cases last year, 17 were closed by year’s end, with 10 arrests (some were multiple hits by the same suspect), for a 39 percent clearance rate. In past years, clearance rates have sometimes been twice that.
Presently, there are five unsolved robbery patterns, according to information provided by the F.B.I. In only one of those have the authorities named a suspect, Dana Connor, whom the bureau has dubbed the “dapper bandit.” While it is tough to judge from the picture the authorities released whether Mr. Connor’s clothing is bespoke, his jacket and button-down shirt do set him apart from the average desperado.
Some robberies over the last year turned violent. In December, a robber was believed to have fired a bullet into a ceiling of an HSBC bank in Queens, said J. Peter Donald, a spokesman for the F.B.I. And in another instance, a robber pointed a gun at a customer’s head and threatened to shoot if he didn’t get any money.
While the takes can vary widely, bank robbers often leave with $1,000 or so. But in at least one New York City heist this past year, a robbery involved access to a bank vault and a haul of hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to an investigator. Law enforcement official were vague on figures because they do not want to highlight the successful heists.
Cracking bank robberies is not all field work. Investigators know well the recidivist streak of many bank robbers – even among those freshly emerged from lengthy federal prison stints. So part of the job of investigating bank robberies is keeping careful tabs on prisoners’ release dates and knowing which convicted bank robbers are back on the streets.
Since the joint bank robbery task force disbanded, there have been occasional tensions between the F.B.I. and the police over jurisdiction at crime scenes. This dynamic played out in an armored car heist in the Bronx last year in which several shots were fired, an official said.
But even though detectives and federal agents are no longer working jointly on a bank robbery squad, there has still been cooperation on investigations, including on so-called “note jobs” in which robbers are not known to be armed with anything other than a demand note.
While the Police Department has primary responsibility for investigating “note jobs,” detectives apparently received help from the F.B.I. in at least one investigation, which led to the arrest of Jesse Hippolite, whose notes often read “GIVE ME ALL THE MONEY OR ELSE EVERYBODY DIES!!!,” according to court documents.
(It wasn’t just on scraps of paper where Mr. Hippolite was doing his writing, according to a criminal complaint that says that his Facebook page was full of clues, including pictures of him holding $100 bills as well as a message posted less than an hour before one of the bank robberies stating “I Gotta Get that $$$$$ Man).
Cops’ Winter Hat
It has been bracing outside. For outdoor workers, like certain police officers, the freezing temperatures can be brutal on the ears – among other things. So, with the cold has come a run on the big, furry hats the New York Police Department has commissioned for winter weather.
The hats look like something “copied from the Russian Army,” said Mike Bosak, a retired sergeant and an unofficial department historian.
“The Russian Army wore them in the cold weather fighting around Stalingrad in World War II,” he said. “They had excellent cold weather gear. That’s one of the reasons they beat the Germans.”
Mr. Bosak said the “cold weather hats” originally came out in the mid-1970s and stuck around “mainly because they are so practical.”
The hats nowadays are black with flaps on the side to cover the ears and a soft, fleece-like lining. They are not part of an officer’s mandatory gear, but can be purchased in the equipment section at 1 Police Plaza.
The hats cost about $12, said an officer wearing one on Tuesday in Lower Manhattan. He said he had to buy a badge, too, to place on the hat, which cost an additional few dollars. But it was worth it.
Some officers, years ago, used to refer to the hat as the Breezly Bruin – a reference to a cartoon polar bear who wore a funny hat to stay warm in the Arctic.
More blandly, some cops nowadays call them Trooper caps.
Mr. Bosak said the hats “look great when the ear flaps are up and buttoned.” With the flaps down, flopping, he said, “you look like a clown.”
Asked if he thought his hat had a special name, the cop seen wearing one on Tuesday, cheeks bright red from the cold, paused, and then said deadpan, pointing an index finger upward toward his head: “The winter hat.”
Homicides in 2011: Low But Not the Lowest
As the calendar ran out on 2011, the police said the preliminary tally for homicides for the year stood at 504. That is a decrease from 536 homicides a year earlier, and the third lowest tally since the early 1960s, when the department said it began tracking numbers it deems are reliable.
There were 496 homicides in 2007, the police said; there were 471 in 2009, the record low. Homicides peaked at 2,245 in 1990, the police said.
Still, the number for 2011 could go up a bit, said Paul J. Browne, the chief police spokesman, as cases are reclassified and injured people die. By Jan. 15, he said, the books will close.
Al Baker, police bureau chief for The New York Times — and the son of a police lieutenant — and other Times police reporters bring you inside the nation’s largest police force every Thursday. Mr. Baker can be reached at [email protected]