Police on alert after third armed robbery in three weeks

For the second time in three weeks an armed robber has struck a local branch of Kootenay Savings Credit Union.

For the second time in three weeks an armed robber has struck a local branch of Kootenay Savings Credit Union, this time in Castlegar, leaving area bank staff anxious and prompting the RCMP to increase patrols and dedicate additional manpower to the investigation.

Early Tuesday afternoon, Castlegar RCMP received a report of a bank robbery alarm at the Kootenay Savings Credit Union on 4th Avenue in downtown Castlegar.

Castlegar detachment members and Kootenay Boundary General Investigative Section (GIS) responded to find that the suspect had fled on foot.

The suspect had entered the bank with a firearm and was able to escape with an undisclosed amount of money in U.S. currency before the RCMP arrived.

“We’ve been in contact with all the banks, pharmacies, grocery stores, convenience stores, any business that might be vulnerable, and are encouraging them to review their security procedures, security cameras, and protocols,” said Corporal Dave Johnson, of the Trail RCMP. “We’ve increased patrols, because visibility is a big part of prevention and want to make sure we touch base with our partners to make sure everything is in place in the event it happens again.”

The suspect in the latest robbery is described as Caucasian, approximately 5’6”, slim build, and was wearing black cargo pants, a dark, faded black hoodie and possibly a ball cap under the hoodie. His face was covered and he was wearing black shoes and dark gloves during the robbery.

The similarity of the physical description of the suspect in the latest robbery to the previous armed robberies of Johnny’s Groceries and Gas in Robson, Mar. 7, the Kootenay Savings in Salmo, Feb. 24, and the Paragon Pharmacy in Castlegar, on Nov. 13 of last year is not lost on the police forces investigating the crimes.

“We haven’t made an official link between the incidents but we’re not dismissing it either,” said Johnson.

“If you look at the reports there’s nothing definite but there are similarities. Just from the rare occurrence of crimes like this in this area and the frequency lately, that in itself says something. Every time this happens we are gathering more evidence. This investigation is definitely moving forward.”

With a second branch of Kootenay Savings robbed at gunpoint staff at the bank is growing increasingly uneasy.

“I think the staff at any one of our branches are nervous about the situation as they are after something like this happens at any other bank or business,” Dean Civatrese, manager of risk management for Kootenay Savings said Wednesday. “They’re understandably concerned. We encourage staff to make use of our employee assistance program and we have the services of a trauma counselor in the aftermath of a situation like this.

“The Castlegar branch is closed today (Wednesday) and we have professional counselors to help them deal with how they might feel and let them know what to expect emotionally after an event like this. We have ongoing training around what to do in the event of a robbery and try to make sure their training is the highest it can be to ensure employee and member safety.”

The RCMP have also been visiting local banks and other businesses to help prepare staff in the event of an armed robbery or similar crime as part of its increased efforts to address this series of robberies.

“We want to help prepare staff in the event it happens again,” said Johnson. “We want to make sure they ensure their safety first but also go over the evidence gathering, the suspect’s direction of travel, physical characteristics, the details.

“It’s a calculated risk, we don’t want to heighten panic but we want to make sure everybody is as prepared as possible.

“It’s concerning. I’ve been in the Kootenays for eight years and I don’t think there has been three incidents like this in any six-year period and now four in six months, nobody likes this.”