Sting operation targets bank robbers

HOUSTON As the owner of a northwest side convenience store Syed Shah is always on guard.

He said, "We carry a weapon if we have to."

But especially so since September 14 when an off-duty Harris County Sheriff's deputy was shot during a bank robbery just a block away.

"A lot of people are concerned now," Shah said.

That includes the Harris County Sheriff's Office. We obtained an internal memo outlining an action plan for a bank robbery initiative. Since a high number of bank robberies have occurred along the 1960 corridor it states that's the target zone -- north of 1960 to Louetta between Highway 249 and Kuykendahl and to the east north of 1960 to also to Louetta between Kuykendahl and Aldine Westfield. There are dozens of banks in the area. Forty-nine of those were robbed this year, out of 135 robberies in all.

"It's always concerning when you see an increase from the previous year," explained FBI special agent Shauna Dunlap.

That 135 number is on pace to easily eclipse last year's total of 155. September was a big month with 42 – that's 30 percent of all bank robberies in the Houston area committed this year.

So since September 21 the Harris County Sheriff's Office has been parking marked units along I-45 and Spring Cypress to deter robberies north of the target zones and at banks with quick access to the freeway, hoping it would drive robbers into the target zones where 16 surveillance units and 15 patrol units have been keeping an eye on during peak bank robbery times. There has been one arrest and no robberies since. The department calls it a success while the FBI says, considering the increase, the public must remain vigilant.

"We always consider these types of individuals armed and dangerous," Dunlap said. "We take them seriously and everyone else should as well."

Syed Shah is happy about the help, but he's not ready to put away his gun yet.

He said, "As many police there are it's not enough. People are still getting robbed. Banks are still getting robbed."

The bank robbery initiative ended at 6pm, so we're not compromising any ongoing efforts.

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