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Robbery foiled by a fool

By Scott Tibbs, August 7, 2009

A bank teller in Seattle has stirred up populist support after he was fired by Key Bank for leaping over the counter and "heroically" chasing and capturing a bank robber. This act of "heroism" undoubtedly saved the bank hundreds of dollars and put criminals on notice that Key Bank and their crime fighting employees are not to be messed with. I expect the city of Seattle will have a ticker-tape parade for the "hero" of Key Bank. You can probably tell this paragraph is dripping with sarcasm.

People have been watching too many crime movies. In the movies, the bad guys cannot hit the broad side of a barn from two feet away. The hero has no trouble taking down small-time criminals, only running into difficulty when facing his primary nemesis. In the real world, a teller who jumps over the counter with the intention of "heroically" capturing a bank robber is likely to get himself shot and killed, and costing the lives of fellow employees or the bank's customers. (For more on the story, see articles here, here, here, here and here.)

There are good reasons why banks have strict policies against resisting would-be robbers with physical force, not the least of which is liability to lawsuits from customers who could be injured or killed if a robber is provoked to start shooting by a bank teller who thinks he is one of the vigilante characters played by Steven Segal or Charles Bronson. Losing a few thousand dollars in a robbery is chump change next to the possibility of a lawsuit that could cost hundreds of thousands of not millions of dollars in damages. More importantly, banks do not want employees or customers unnecessarily killed. A few hundred or a few thousand dollars is insignificant to lives that cannot be replaced.

Bank tellers are not trailed to fight criminals. They are trained to process transactions. When Jim Nicholson decided to pretend he is an action movie star, he put his own life and the lives of his customers and fellow employees at risk. He engaged in blatant insubordination against the clearly defined policies of his employer, policies that were certainly explained to him. In almost any line of work, insubordination can be grounds for termination.

Key Bank did the right thing in terminating Nicholson's employment and the people expressing outrage at the "unfair" treatment of him need to step out of the fantasy world of Hollywood movies and step into the real world.