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Heroin addiction fueling uptick in S.L. bank robberies, police say

Salt Lake City Police Officers investigate a robbery Monday, Dec. 30, 2013 at Brighton Bank at 1402 south 300 west.
Salt Lake City Police Officers investigate a robbery Monday, Dec. 30, 2013 at Brighton Bank at 1402 south 300 west.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Police attribute a dramatic uptick in bank robberies in the Salt Lake Valley to a heroin epidemic.

More than 90 percent of the robberies are related to the cheap, highly addictive drug, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank said.

The 45 bank robberies, including 16 this year, committed in the city the past 18 months exceed the total number for the previous four years combined, according to Salt Lake police.

"We've seen people, individuals who've been arrested for committing violent crimes in other locations in the United States who then come here and commit the same types of crimes in Salt Lake City in order to feed this heroin addiction," the chief said.

Burbank and members of the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force talked about the issue Tuesday as more than 200 law enforcement officers gather this week for the annual Salt Lake Violent Crimes Conference. It will address crimes such as murder, sexual assaults, bombings and robbery.

"This is a problem we have somewhat created in cracking down on prescription opiate medications," he said.

Heroin habits often start with an addiction to a painkiller such as Oxycontin, which runs $60 to $80 a pill on the street. Addicts turn to $10 or $20 balloons of heroin when prescriptions expire or when the pills become too expensive.

Police say they're seeing closer ties to Mexican drug cartels that are pushing heroin on the Wasatch Front because profit margins are big.

"More people are using it. More people are buying it. Therefore, they're more desperate. Heroin is a desperate user's drug," said Salt Lake police detective Matt Evans. He said it's not uncommon for addicts to spend $1,000 to $5,000 a month on heroin.

Addicts see banks as quick, easy money. Evans said most of the robbers police have interviewed hit a bank, buy heroin, go home and black out, and do it all over again.

FBI special agent Adam Quirk said there is no profile or set of traits that make up a heroin-addicted bank robber. Some are in their 20s, some in their 50s. Some have never been arrested, while others are repeat offenders. They are students and professionals and people of all races, he said.

Quirk said most bank robberies are "note jobs," meaning the robber gives the teller a note demanding money. But, he said, they're still considered violent crimes.

Though bank robberies are prevalent, getting away with it apparently is not.

Police also say they arrest about 90 percent of all bank robbers.

"It’s the most cleared violent crime there is," Quirk said. "If you rob a bank, you're going to get caught."


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