Bank robbers are so cute

I wonder what the River Rat bank robber is doing right now. Besides counting the money he has stolen in an estimated 17 armed robberies over the last two months.

I wonder what the River Rat bank robber is doing right now. Besides counting the money he has stolen in an estimated 17 armed robberies over the last two months, he’s probably enjoying his new pseudo-celebrity status among his friends. I’d bet he’s watching his story on the local news and thinking he is pretty cool, with his bank-robbing nickname and $10,000 reward being offered for his capture. Maybe he wishes he had one of those Old West wanted posters to really glorify his crimes.

According to The Oregonian, his first armed robbery took place on Aug. 7 in Northeast Portland and the latest robbery took place Thursday, Sept. 24 in Vancouver. He has also victimized banks and check cashing facilities on both sides of the Columbia River—hence the name.

I found myself irritated for the River Rat’s victims as I kept hearing him referred to by the media with this cool, fictitious name.

As it turns out, the FBI hands out the pseudonyms—not that the sensationalized news programs don’t appreciate it. According to the Seattle Times, “FBI agents pride themselves on their ability to attach colorful, catchy nicknames to the region’s most prolific bank robbers.” I can’t help but ask myself: really?

Giving a serial bank robber a catchy nickname—besides being in poor taste—could potentially lead to unfavorable consequences. Perhaps, after seeing the news reports, he starts to think he is like Billy the Kid. This could cause him to get bolder and commit more robberies. I have to wonder if the FBI wants more crimes to be committed by these serial bank robbers, to involve more eyewitnesses. More eyewitness reports may help law enforcement apprehend the suspect, but at what cost?

Seattle-based FBI Special Agent Larry Carr told The Seattle Times in August, “It is a marketing tool. We look at something we can do to make a caricature of the person from pop culture.” Carr goes on to talk about his favorite nicknames over the years, obviously making light of the situation. It’s pretty hard to digest the lack of seriousness on the part of law enforcement involved in these cases. Lighthearted, catchy pop culture has no place in a public safety issue such as felony bank robberies.

There are multiple Oregonian archives from 2007 about an armed bank robber the FBI had dubbed the “Waddling Bandit.” He was overweight and witnesses described his walk as a “waddle.” A $10,000 dollar reward was offered for this man too. Eventually, an innocent, elderly and sick retired teacher was arrested because he was overweight, waddled a bit and vaguely resembled the man in the surveillance video. He ended up spending 10 nights in jail, aggravating several medical conditions, and it cost him a large chunk of his own money. The charges were eventually dropped because he produced several alibis. The FBI refused to apologize to the man.

Is all of this a result of his nickname? No, but I am convinced it contributed and whomever turned in this innocent man as the Waddling Bandit for the reward money undoubtedly took the nickname too seriously.

According to the Los Angeles Daily News, “These quirky monikers based on identifying features or habits have the potential for creating more news coverage, greater public interest and possibly tips that may lead to the capture of the bandits. That may lead to the capture, but not necessarily,” according to Jack Levin, director of the Brudnick Center on Violence at Northeastern University in Boston. Levin believes there is no evidence that monikers help authorities catch criminals, but they do help create a high profile case that generates public interest. In the 1920s and ‘30s, colorful nicknames helped make criminals like “Machine Gun” Kelly and “Baby Face” Nelson into household names.

Criminals today hoping to live on in infamy don’t even have to come up with their own nicknames. The FBI is doing them a favor by making them famous with this nickname method that is not necessarily assisting in their capture and is extremely insensitive to victims.

Bank robbing seems to have retained its romantic image into the 21st century, with little help from the very people who are supposed to be stopping it.