The Canadian Review of Policing Research (2005)

ISSN: 1710 6915


Lisa Schultz

Lisa Schultz, MA, CCA, is a strategic crime analyst with the Research and Development Section, Calgary Police Service. She can be reached at

Introduction and Purpose

Sentencing in Canada is a discretionary practice and relies on the expert recommendations of many within the criminal justice system. The police, in particular, play a significant role in the determination of sentence for offenders brought before the judiciary. In fact, the Crown prosecutor often asks investigating officers to give their expert opinion on what sentence range should be requested for a particular offender they have investigated. In doing so, the Crown acknowledges that no other criminal justice system participant has such in-depth familiarity with the case and the offender as the police. Nevertheless, the police have very little time to thoroughly explore each of the available sentencing options and their suitability to individual cases and offenders. While they recognize that certain aggravating and mitigating factors exist within and between each investigation, they often have no set guidelines to follow when recommending sentences. They base their recommendations on instinct and experience, but recognize that even these qualifications are inadequate when speaking of criminal punishment and the imposition of a sentence on a person’s life. It was recognition of this situation that led to this study.

The purpose of this research was to determine what case factors may be influencing judges when making their decisions about bank robbery sentences. It was also to determine whether there is any consistency in sentences handed down to convicted bank robbers. Historical crime data were examined to understand what sentence a typical Calgary bank robber receives, and what aggravating and mitigating factors play a role in sentencing.

Literature Review

The scope of this study was broad. In addition to helping determine what factors influence sentencing in bank robbery cases, the research was also meant to be exploratory. Accordingly, an extensive review of the literature was first conducted. First, a comparison of U.S. and Canadian sentencing guidelines was done. Secondly, a review of sentencing options in Canada, including imprisonment, fines, and restitution, was conducted. Next, the offence of bank robbery was examined in both the general and local context. Offender typologies of solo gunmen, beggar bandits, and robbery crews1 were outlined, and robbery statistics were reviewed. Findings showed this offence, while still prevalent, has been declining both in Calgary and worldwide since the early 1990s.

Finally, aggravating and mitigating factors of bank robbery were examined. The Criminal Code of Canada includes mention of factors affecting sentencing in section 718.2(a) a sentence should be increased or reduced to account for any relevant aggravating or mitigating circumstances relating to the offence or the offender. Examples of aggravating factors, or factors that might result in a harsher sentence, include:

  • Wearing a mask or full disguise
  • Performing an overt “commando-style” robbery
  • Carrying a firearm and/or pointing it at victim(s)
  • Acting aggressively or agitated during the offence
  • Cursing and/or yelling at victims during the robbery
  • Stealing a significant sum of money
  • Committing more than one robbery or a “spree” of robberies
  • Pleading not guilty
  • Being on parole or unlawfully at large at the time of the offence
  • Having numerous criminal convictions in one’s history
  • Having a criminal conviction history including robbery and/or violent crime.
  • Conversely, mitigating factors of a bank robbery may include:
  • Entering the bank quietly and waiting in line for the next available teller
  • Being polite to victims
  • Speaking in a calm and/or apologetic voice
  • Entering the bank without a weapon
  • Wearing a partial or no disguise
  • Committing only one offence
  • Pleading guilty
  • Stealing a small sum of money
  • Having no criminal history, or one including only minor offences.

These factors were taken into consideration during hypothesis development. The impact of this offence on victims was also briefly examined. The examination showed there are steps police officers can take to alleviate the impact of robbery on victims.


Upon completion of the literature review and hypothesis development, data from both the record management system (PIMS) and the bank robbery binders of the Robbery Unit of the Calgary Police Service (CPS) were analyzed by use of the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences ( SPSS 11.5) software program. Of the 95 variables included in this research, 53 (55.8 per cent) were gathered from PIMS. Sentencing data were collected from the Justice Online Information Network (JOIN)2 of the Province of Alberta, and criminal history data from the Canadian Police Information Centre ( CPIC – CRII). A review of the online archival system Westlaw@Carswell was also done to access case law information on Canadian bank robbery cases.

At this point, analysis of the data began. The data set consisted of 236 rows of information, containing 209 incidents of bank robbery and 113 offenders. The initial data set was larger, but offenders who were not specifically identified as “accused” were removed. Suspects, offenders not charged, and unknown offenders would not have received sentences, so could not be included in the sample group, as they would have skewed the results.

This information was analyzed in SPSS, first using measures of central tendency and dispersion (i.e., frequencies), and then by running cross-tabulations and Pearson chi-squares. In order to perform the more sophisticated analyses, identifying information was removed and the cleaned data taken to the University of Calgary for review by two reputable instructors, and experts in statistics and SPSS.


The reported findings were separated into five categories, pertaining to (1) the offender, (2) the offence, (3) sentencing, (4) statistically significant relationships, and (5) case law analysis. This separation was intended to permit better understanding of a typical Calgary bank robber and robbery, and a typical bank robbery sentence. It was also meant to show what variable relationships are significant, thereby potentially influencing the decisions of judges when sentencing these offenders.

Major findings from the offender analysis follow:

  • 96.2% per cent (N=227) of identified bank robbery offenders were male
  • Bank robbery in Calgary is typically committed by a more “mature” offender, as the mode for this sample was 32 and 69% (N=164) of bank robbery offenders fell within the 25-44 year age range at the time of their offence;
  • Almost 50% of offenders had no permanent or “fixed” address at the time of their offence;
  • Most offenders in this sample had no prior robbery convictions (57.2%; N=135). For the remainder, an average of 1.8 robbery convictions were found, with a range of 25 and a median of 0;
  • An overall average of 20.4 total convictions were imposed on this sample of offenders prior to their bank robberies;
  • Most bank robbers in the sample group were able to get away with committing two or more robberies in Calgary before being stopped by the police (71.2%; N=168); and
  • A small percentage of robberies were committed by offenders who were on parole (11%), unlawfully at large (11.4%), or both (5.5%) at the time of their offence.

Major findings from the robbery analysis follow:

  • All but one of the top five victimized banks were major financial institutions with locations across Canada;
  • Most banks had been robbed on two or more occasions (66.5%; N=139);
  • Based on a map of all robbery locations, the largest cluster of robberies occurred in the downtown core, close to public transit (Light Rail Train) and homeless shelters; and
  • Tuesday was the most common day for bank robberies (22.5%; N=53), while most robberies occurred between 11am and 3pm.
  • The most commonly found offence characteristics follow:
  • Most Calgary bank robbers only threatened to be carrying a weapon (47.0%; N=111), while 22.8% (N=54) actually displayed the weapon and 30% (N=71) carried no weapon;
  • As Figure 1 shows, the most commonly seen weapon in Calgary bank robberies was a firearm. Handguns were the most common type of firearm (63%; N=34);
  • Over two-thirds of all Calgary bank robbery offenders disguised their identity (67.8%; N=160), and 60.6% (n=143) of bank robbers used a note;
  • An overwhelming majority of Calgary bank robbers do not use profanity in front of their victims (90.7%; N=175);
  • 6.4% (N=15) of bank robbers committed “commando-style” robberies. The remaining 93.6% (N=221) did not display enough of the MO’s required to signify this style of robbery;3
  • An “aggressiveness rating” scale was compiled for the purpose of this study. The largest number of offenders scored “mild” on this scale (47.0%; N=111). This implies that most Calgary bank robberies are committed by offenders who are not overly aggressive in their weapon use, verbal demands, demeanour, and MO;
  • A significant majority of Calgary bank robbers are sober at the time of their offence (84.3%; N=199);
  • On average, bank robbers were able to get away with approximately $4,637. One’s chances of making away with more than $10,000 in a single robbery is very slim (7.6%; N=18); and
  • Essentially, most Calgary bank robbers can be classified as “beggar bandits”, who are described as calm and polite, rarely using a weapon, being sober at the time of the offence, and working alone (Desroches, 1995).

Following are the most significant results of the sentencing analysis:

  • The most lenient penalty imposed on a Calgary bank robber between January 1, 1996 and December 31, 2002 was “one day of jail accompanied by one year of conditional sentence”. In contrast, the most severe penalty imposed during this period was “36 years global consecutive to sentence serving”
  • The most common sentence a Calgary bank robber received for one robbery was 4 years, or 48 months (16.7; N=22). As Figure 2 shows, it is rare for an offender to be sentenced to more than seven years (84 months) in prison for a bank robbery
  • While the average sentence of all offenders in this sample was 58 months, the average among the group who carried real firearms was 73 months
  • Among the 236 offenders in total, 38.6% (N=91) were banned from possessing firearms
  • The amount of restitution for the sample group ranged from $1,547 to $7,500, with the average being $3,354.60. Only five offenders in the sample were required to pay restitution;
  • The majority of defendants who entered a plea (N=136) pleaded guilty (90.4%; N=123)

A summary of the statistically significant findings, based on the primary dependent variable “sentence length” follows:4

  • Results of the Pearson chi-square and independent samples t-test showed no significant association between sentence length and disguise
  • Results of a cross-tabulation and chi-square test showed no significant association between sentence range and level of aggressiveness;
  • There appears to be no association between sentence range and the modus operandi required for a commando-style robbery;
  • The mean sentence imposed on offenders who carried a real gun was slightly higher than the mean sentence for those who did not carry a real gun (59.6 months versus 55.2 months)
  • Offenders who were verbally abusive during their robberies received higher mean sentences than those who were not verbally abusive (60 months vs. 53.7 months)
  • Sentence length appeared to have no correlation to amount of money stolen
  • The number of bank robberies committed by an offender in Calgary is positively associated to the sentence received
  • Offenders who pleaded guilty were more likely to receive lengthier sentences than those who pleaded not guilty (55.2 months vs. 40.7 months)
  • Offenders who were not on parole at the time of their offence received a mean sentence of 52 months, while those who violated their parole received a mean sentence of 70.8 months;
  • Offenders who were not unlawfully at large at the time of their robbery received a mean sentence of 52.7 months while those who were UAL received a mean sentence of 68.5 months; and
  • Results of a cross-tabulation showed that as an offender’s previous overall conviction count increases, so does his sentence. More specifically, as the number of previous robbery convictions increases, the sentence imposed also increases.

Finally, a review of case law was conducted to determine what other factors judges consider when making sentencing decisions. Essentially, this review showed there can be a wide range of sentences imposed on bank robbery offenders. It also showed that many of the factors judges consider when sentencing bank robbery offenders are unknown to police at the time of investigation. For example, family support was seen by judges as a mitigating factor. This kind of support could not be predicted by police when recommending sentence to the Crown.

There are, however, certain factors that judges take into account when determining sentence that police would know about when making sentence recommendations. Many of these factors have already been identified in this study. They are:

  • Number of robberies;
  • Seriousness of criminal record;
  • Offender plea;
  • Amount of money stolen; and
  • Use of a firearm.

Conclusions and Implications

The following conclusions can be drawn from this study:

  • There is little consistency in sentencing of bank robbers in Calgary;
  • Banks that have been robbed once are more likely to be robbed again;
  • Repeatedly victimized banks in the downtown core may be targeted by drug-addicts, and shelter/halfway house residents;
  • Most bank robberies in Calgary are relatively non-violent and are committed by “Beggar Bandits”;
  • Offenders who used a gun, were verbally abusive to their victim(s), or were on parole or unlawfully at large at the time of their offence received higher mean sentences than those offenders not displaying these criteria;
  • Offender plea, number of overall convictions and number of robbery convictions were all found to be associated to sentence;
  • Judges take some factors into consideration during sentencing that police have no way of knowing at the time they recommend sentence to the Crown; and
  • Police can take steps to alleviate the fear and trauma victims of bank robbery often feel.

Implications for this research include:

  • Sentencing guidelines for bank robbery cases should be developed jointly by the CPS and the Crown attorney, based in part on the findings of this study;
  • Banks that have been shown to be frequent targets of robbery in this study should be contacted by the CPS Crime Prevention Unit to develop strategies for reducing their robbery rates;
  • After downtown bank robberies have occurred, one of the first steps taken by the CPS should be to contact downtown shelters and halfway houses for their assistance in identifying the suspect(s);
  • Another strategy that could be employed by the CPS after a bank robbery is to have officers in the targeted district seek out known drug trafficking offenders and locations to possibly apprehend and/or identify the offender(s) responsible;
  • Robbery investigators should familiarize themselves with the offender typologies outlined in this study, and to apply this knowledge when investigating bank robberies. The “Beggar Bandit” typology should receive special attention as most Calgary bank robbers were shown to fit this profile;
  • Robbery investigators should take the following factors into consideration when recommending sentence to the Crown: use of a weapon; verbal abusiveness; parole/unlawfully at large status; and previous number of overall and robbery convictions.
  • Steps responding officers should take to alleviate the fear of bank robbery victims include: making the victim feel as though they still live in a safe city, and that robberies of this type are uncommon; not discussing the potential for retrieving the stolen monies; and assuring the victim(s) that every effort would be made to catch the offender(s).


Desroches, F.J. (1995). Force & Fear: Robbery in Canada. Scarborough, On: International Thomson Publishing.

End Notes

1. F. J. Desroches, Force & Fear: Robbery in Canada, Scarborough, ON: 1995, International Thomson Publishing.

2. Only sentencing information handed down in provincial court or the Court of Queen’s Bench was included. Some offenders appealed their sentences and received new judgments in the Alberta Court of Appeal, but these decisions were not included in this study.

3. Characteristics of this style of robbery might include jumping the counter; forcing the victims into another room, or onto the floor; taping the mouths of victims; robbing more than one teller and/or customers in the bank; and destroying bank property.

4. There were only 130 out of 236 cases resulting in sentences among this sample, so the “N” is represented as 130.