Banks employ dress codes for customers

Orlando Sentinel

After a series of robberies in recent months, some banks in Longwood, Fla., have armed themselves with a new crime-fighting weapon they hope will ward off potential crooks: a dress code.

Their message is simple: No hats, no hoods, no shades, no problem.

This latest “what not to wear” effort, part of an anti-crime push organized by Longwood police, is designed to bolster bank security while not offending customers. Those who flout the code by refusing to remove their hats and sunglasses — items often used by robbers to obscure their identities — probably won’t be turned away; they’ll simply be scrutinized more closely while they’re in the bank.

The banking industry says such measures are effective, but the latest dress-code campaign revives a long-running controversy about the legal and customer-service risks of imposing restrictions on what customers can wear into a bank.

The Florida Bankers Association introduced a similar dress-code campaign five years ago and credits it with contributing to a big drop in bank robberies since 2007 — from 362 that year to 214 in 2011, according to the latest FBI figures available.

“We’ve had more and more banks get on board with it statewide,” said Alex Sanchez, the FBA’s chief executive officer. “We think it makes a lot of sense, and once you really explain it to customers, they understand how important it is as a safety issue.”

But it’s not clear how much the dress code contributed to the statewide decrease in bank robberies. Only about 20 percent of the state’s 5,600 bank branches participate in the FBA’s program, according to trade-group figures. Nationwide, meanwhile, the number of bank robberies fell 16 percent from 2007 to 2011 — a trend some experts attribute to improvements in security technology and police work.

Officer Kevin Tuck, head of public information for the Longwood Police Department, led the recent dress-code campaign in that city, persuading a number of institutions to join.

Many have posted official police stickers at the entrances to their Longwood branches, asking patrons to remove any hats, hoods or sunglasses before entering.

“I have no problem with the policy at all,” said Donald Willis, an air-conditioning contractor and customer of both Fairwinds Credit Union and Fidelity National Bank, which are both participating. “I was at Fairwinds recently when a gentleman walked in wearing a baseball cap. They were very polite about it, asked him to take it off, and he did. It was no big deal.

“I think banks just have to do whatever they have to do nowadays for security.”

Tuck said he decided to act in April after four Longwood banks were robbed in 60 days.

“We’ve seen a recent rise in bank robberies, not only in Central Florida but statewide, and this is a simple way of fighting back to prevent crime,” the Longwood police officer said. “We believe these measures will deter a lot of potential robbers, maybe not the most-hardened criminals, but certainly what we call the ‘note pushers’ who come in to rob a teller.”

Some banks, including Chase and Wells Fargo, say they support the police initiative but have stopped short of adopting the “no hats, hoods, sunglasses” dress code.

That may be because such policies have always been dicey propositions for banks as they strive to balance security measures and customer relations, some experts say. Many don’t want to appear to be intruding on their customers’ sense of personal liberty and, in some cases, freedom of religious expression, because some faiths require certain clothing to be worn in public.

“Banks risk alienating the public, losing customers and potentially running into allegations of discrimination with these kinds of policies,” said Kenneth Adams, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Central Florida. “Besides, banks have already hardened their security in many other ways that have led to a big drop in bank robberies in recent years. This dress code thing is just an overreach.”

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Subscribe Today

Sign up for our email newsletter to receive daily news.

Want more? Click here to subscribe to either the Print or Digital Editions.