"Houston, We Have an Armored Car Robbery Problem"
For a major city, Houston drivers spend far less time in rush-hour gridlock than those in other large U.S. metropolises. Last year, residents spent an average of 51.5 hours in gridlock, a number unchanged from the year before. Compare that to Los Angeles’ 104.1 hours, Atlanta’s 70.8, Washington, DC’s 61 or Boston’s 57.6.
Overall, Houston ranks the 11th worst city in the U.S. for congestion, despite having the fourth-largest population. The city’s relatively low density and spiderweb of highways makes traversing the urban area an easy task — a benefit for residents who enjoy the leafy suburban life.
Unfortunately, it could also explain the city’s popularity among armored car thieves.
According to Houstonia, citing FBI data, Houston recorded 30 armored car robberies between 2013 and 2016. That’s about one-fifth the total for the entire country during the same period. For four years running, Houston has held the title of America’s armored car robbery capital.
Certainly, there’s some unique element — or elements — that make Houston a more attractive place to knock off a Brinks truck than in other U.S. cities. But what are they? Those who make a living looking at such things believe it could be the factors that make the city an attractive place to live for property owners and motorists.
In 2015, FBI Director James Comey cited the city’s “breathtakingly large surface area,” which could make it easy for criminals to slip away before responding police officers arrive. Dr. Everette Penn, professor of criminology at the University of Houston–Clear Lake, suggested to Houstonia that a spread-out population with lots of banks practically begs for such crimes of opportunity. The trucks would simply have to cover more ground than in other cities, the professor said.
It could be that, but a map of recent armored car heists suggest that the road network could play a major role. According to Houstonia:
Plotting all 30 robberies doesn’t show any geographic correlation (aside from a small cluster near Greenspoint), but most took place within a couple blocks of a freeway—and frequently near the intersection of two major arteries, upping the potential avenues for a quick getaway.
Close proximity to escape routes is a valuable asset for criminals, but Houston could also be the victim of a statistical blip. After pulling off a successful heist, an armored car robber could be tempted to do it again. And again. Usually, with accomplices. That’s the case in several recent high-profile arrests, said FBI special agent Shauna Dunlap.
“Typically these types of crimes are [committed by] serial offenders, so you’ll see the numbers spike, but once you catch them they go down again,” Dunlop said.
Houston police and the FBI have already made progress via a joint investigation that began last year. Three suspected armored car thieves were arrested in December and another killed in a shootout following a sting operation designed to catch the killers of two armored car guards.
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