CHICAGO - Maybe it's not surprising that in a city famous for bank robbery, two brazen bandits practice their craft with a show of civic pride.
The Chicago Bandit, responsible for at least eight heists, is known for his blue ball cap inscribed with the city's name. The Cubs Fan Bandit, wanted in three robberies, wears headgear celebrating the local National League baseball team.
Metropolitan Chicago logged a record number of bank robberies in 2006 for the second year in a row. The 284 holdups surpassed the 2005 record of 240. How busy was it? On Sept. 25, a downtown bank was hit twice.
No one really knows why, but the FBI speculates that multiplying storefront and grocery-store branches offer attractive targets.
Los Angeles, New York and Dallas also had more bank robberies last year. Dallas County's 145 were up from 64 in 2005.
"To have that many in this area is astronomical," Dallas FBI spokeswoman Beverly Esselbach said.
Los Angeles - "the bank robbery capital," FBI spokesman Bill Carter said - led the country with 470, up from 455. Robbers there included the camera-toting Paparazzi Bandit, known for photographing tellers, and the Goofy Hat Bandit, who wore a black fedora. Washington's total jumped to 50, from 26 in 2005.
New York's total of 290 was up from 229 the year before, but FBI spokesman Jim Margolin said the city's decline in armed heists, with the potential for violence, was more significant than the uptick in nonviolent "note jobs."
The trend in armed bank robberies "has been down in recent years," Margolin said, noting that there were 45 robberies with a clearly armed assailant in 2005 and 28 in 2006. "We hesitate to speculate why, but some think there's a correlation with the economy or demographics. The aging of the population means a decrease in the male 18- to 30-year-old population, which criminologists believe is responsible for most crimes."
The FBI increasingly relies on the public's help because improved surveillance cameras make circulating images of culprits easier and because FBI resources have been diverted to antiterrorism duty, Chicago FBI spokeswoman Cynthia Yates said.
A suspect was arrested after the Goatee Bandit, linked to 13 robberies, was featured on a "Chicago's Most Wanted" segment on Fox News. In November, three witnesses caught a suspected bank robber, stained with an exploded dye pack.
But the FBI is still searching for a number of Chicago serial robbers. The armed Wheaton Bandit tops the list, with at least 16 robberies netting more than $100,000 in the last four years.