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Robbery of Squirrel Hill bank under police surveillance 'sort of embarrassing'

| Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, 2:30 p.m.
Joseph Francis Guiney Jr. is accused of being a serial bank robber responsible for four bank robberies in Squirrel Hill. Submitted

A robber left Pittsburgh police scratching their heads as detectives try to figure out how he knocked off a Squirrel Hill bank while officers had it and others nearby under surveillance.

Police on Monday said they suspect the same man, Joseph Guiney, 33, of Greenfield, of robbing four banks in the neighborhood this year.

Investigators said the suspect walked into the Citizens Bank branch on Murray Avenue about 11:40 a.m. Saturday, showed a gun and asked for money.

“Give it up; you gave it up last week, so give it up again,” Guiney told the teller, according to police. “I don't want to do this, but I have a problem.”

He ran off with an undisclosed amount of cash even though the bank was one of seven branches in a four-block area that police were watching that day.

“It's sort of embarrassing,” said Andrew Scott, a police consultant and former police chief in Boca Raton, Fla.

Police spokeswoman Diane Richard said officers responded quickly but “the suspect eluded them.” Police were asking for help finding Guiney.

“All it takes is less than four minutes for a bank to be robbed,” said robbery squad Sgt. Lavonnie Bickerstaff. “All you have to do is walk in, walk right back out. The banks aren't going to put up a fight, and they know that.”

Guiney is charged with two robberies on March 27 and Oct. 31, and detectives were getting an arrest warrant in Saturday's holdup and a Nov. 9 robbery.

Police set up surveillance to watch the Citizens, PNC, Fifth-Third, Parkvale, Dollar, First Niagara and First Commonwealth banks on Murray and Forbes avenues following three robberies in the area in a month.

“If they had somebody sitting on the bank and it's stationary surveillance, I would say ‘Oh my gosh, the cops screwed up badly,' ” Scott said. “If they're having roving surveillance, I would wonder if this could have been just a remarkable coincidence.”

Police said they did not have one person monitoring each bank. Bickerstaff would not say how many officers patrolled the neighborhood, nor whether they did so on foot or in marked or unmarked cars.

“If we were sitting on that one bank, there would be some issues, but we were everywhere ... cruising the back alleys, the back of the banks, the front of the banks,” she said.

The latest robbery was the fourth since Oct. 31. Police charged Guiney with a holdup that day at the First Niagara on Murray and plan to charge him with a Nov. 9 robbery at the Citizens Bank.

Police arrested Yamin Harris, 18, in the Nov. 7 robbery of the First National Bank on Murray.

“Obviously, this is something you want to control, but bank robbers, from what I've been told, almost always get caught,” said Raymond Baum, president of the nonprofit Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition.

Richard said more robberies typically occur this time of year “because people seem to need money for the holidays, they're down on their luck, or they're trying to feed a drug habit.”

Many banks have loss-prevention departments. Richard said police and FBI officers trained bank personnel on how to deal with robberies because it's difficult for police alone to monitor all the banks.

“It's like trying to find a needle in a haystack. What we have to rely on is the training of the bank personnel and the cameras inside the bank,” she said.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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