"Without question, it's a cause for concern," Busacco said. "Naturally, when you have several incidents, the department is put on the alert. We don't want to make it a panic situation, but there have been a lot of bank robberies. Not just in North Bergen, but all over New Jersey."
The latest robbery took place a week ago Thursday morning when a brazen thief wearing a ski mask put a gun to the head of a security guard, told the teller behind the glass to fill up a shopping gift bag with money, then fled the scene with what is believed to be more than $8,000. The robber remains on the loose.
According to police reports, this robbery happened at the Hudson United Bank, located in the Columbia Park Shopping Center at 31st Street and Kennedy Boulevard, at approximately 11:30 a.m., when the unidentified male, wearing a blue and red ski mask, walked into the bank, went right to the security guard, drew the gun and held the gun to the guard's head.
The thief then escorted the security guard to the teller's window. The teller then handed over an undisclosed sum of money, which the masked robber then put in his gift bag and left the store.
Witnesses have not been able to come up with a composite description of the thief. He is believed to be a dark-skinned Hispanic male of slim build, anywhere between 5-foot-8 and six feet in height, and may have a tear-shaped tattoo near his eye.
Police were called to the scene, but the robber was long gone by the time the police arrived. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was also called to the scene and the FBI is now overseeing the investigation of the case.
While police and FBI agents were both concerned about the rash of bank thefts in the area (Union City has also been hit several times in the last two months and Hoboken just this past week), both officials believe that Thursday's robbery is not related to the string of thefts pulled off by the so-called "Eminem Robber," who has pulled off 11 bank robberies in the last six weeks, including one in Kearny on Tuesday. The "Eminem Robber" is so named because he looks like famous rapper Eminem.
"It appears that it's an isolated incident and not related to the 'Enimem Robber,' " said FBI Special Agent Steven Kodak. "This individual has not been linked with anything else."
"It does not appear to be the same person," Busacco said. "Hopefully, we can be in the right place at the right time and if we keep trying, we'll catch this guy like we got the others."
North Bergen police did manage to apprehend a man who robbed the Valley National Bank on 85th Street and Kennedy Boulevard several weeks ago, when he attempted to board a passenger jitney after allegedly robbing the bank.
An arrest was also made in the case of the attempted robbery at the Bank of New York on 85th and Tonnelle Avenues, after a botched robbery try and apparent hostage standoff was foiled by police.
In January, a security guard working at Hudson County News on Bergen Avenue was robbed of the day's receipts by a gun-toting thief. No arrests have been made in that case.
Kodak said that the FBI has been working closely with bank officials in attempts to try to stem the rash of bank robberies.
"We have definitely stepped up our liaisons with the bank community," Kodak said. "Our bank robbery people have been working with banks and their security people in an effort to cut down on the amount of robberies."
Busacco said that the North Bergen police department has stepped up its attempts to quell the recent rash of crime.
"We have our street crime force, our plainclothes detectives and our street patrols, going to various banks in town to make them aware of what's going on," Busacco said. "But they know. I don't think security is lax. I just think it's a sign of the economic times. Desperate times lead to desperate actions. It could be drug-related, gambling, outstanding loans."
Added Busacco, "We have our trouble spots, targeted areas where both uniform and plainclothes officers would regularly inspect. With this rash, they include banks, places of business. If they keep trying, sooner or later, they get caught. But without question, we are all on a heightened alert."