updated 4/12/2007 11:23:42 AM ET 2007-04-12T15:23:42

What’s the best way to make a bank robber turn around and walk out the door empty-handed? Try a handshake and a smile.

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Excessive friendliness is the key to the “Safecatch” system created by FBI Special Agent Larry Carr. The premise is that an overdose of courtesy will unnerve would-be robbers and get them to rethink the crime.

“If you’re a legitimate customer, you think, ’This is the friendliest person I’ve met in my life.’ If you’re a bad guy, it scares the lights out of you,” said Drew Ness, a vice president of Bellevue-based First Mutual Bank, who advocates the approach.

Carr, who has taught the method to employees at 16 Washington banks over the past few years, credits the system in part for the drop in Seattle bank robberies from 80 in the first three months of 2006 to 44 during the same period this year. On Tuesday, he ran a training session for employees at a First Mutual branch in Seattle.

Sharply different approach
The method is a sharp contrast to the traditional training for bank employees confronted with a suspicious person, which advises not approaching the person, and at most, activating an alarm or dropping an exploding dye pack into the cash.

When a man walked into a First Mutual branch last year wearing garden gloves and sunglasses, manager Scott Taffera greeted him heartily, invited him to remove the glasses, and guided him to an equally friendly teller. The man eventually asked for a roll of quarters and left.

Carr said he suspects the man was the “Garden Glove Bandit,” who robbed area banks between March 2004 and November 2006.

Carr stressed that employees should never put themselves in danger, and they should comply with any demands made by an armed robber.

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