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Training — of cops and bank tellers   — helps snag bank robbery suspect

Elgpolice officer Gough pulls bank robbery suspect out back sefor witness identificatiTuesday near Lambert Lane Bartlett. The suspect was apprehended

Elgin police officer Gough pulls a bank robbery suspect out of the back seat for witness identification, Tuesday near Lambert Lane in Bartlett. The suspect was apprehended following a robbery around 9 am a the Old Second Bank on Route 20 in Elgin. January 15, 2013 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 17, 2013 6:21AM

ELGIN — Eric Echevarria and Bob Henke are veteran cops with about 15 years service each on the Elgin police force.

At age 25, Josh Miller was on only his second day as a full-fledged patrolman after working as a campus security guard and undergoing three months of field training.

The two men and two women who were just starting work at Old Second Bank’s Elgin branch had no law enforcement careers at all.

Yet it was the training that all seven went through in recent months that enabled them to know just what to do when a masked gunman jumped over a counter and robbed that bank Tuesday morning. And thanks to that training, Police Chief Jeff Swoboda says, a 30-year-old Carol Stream man was arrested on suspicion of bank robbery — five miles away just minutes later.

“We have a lot of technology we can use to tell us where a crime may occur. But at the end of the day, it’s just basic police work,” Swoboda said during a press conference late Tuesday afternoon to celebrate the quick work.

Police Cmdr. Glenn Theriault said four employees were inside the bank branch on Elgin’s far-west side, along Route 20 near Nesler Road, when a man entered about 9:15 a.m., wearing a mask and a hooded sweatshirt. The employees told police he displayed a handgun, jumped over the counter and demanded money.

Taking an undisclosed amount of currency, the robber then drove away eastbound on Route 20 in a white Toyota Camry that was later found to have been rented and to be marked with temporary license plates that did not match the car.

Apparently wanting to remain inconspicuous, the robber even stopped for a red light at Route 20 and Nesler, allowing the bank employees extra time to notice just what kind of car he was driving and phone in that description to the Elgin 911 center.

Swoboda said that since Elgin banks were robbed in June 2012 and the winter of 2011-12, the police have been offering training to each bank’s employees about what to do in case of a robbery, and Old Second was one that had undergone the training.

“People always ask, ‘What can we do?’ ” the chief said. “One of the best things is to be a very good witness, to report what the person was wearing, what kind of car he was driving, what the direction of travel was.”

Hearing via the police radio that a bank robber in a white Camry, wearing a hoodie, had last been seen driving eastbound on Route 20, the three patrolmen also knew what to do.

“A bank robbery is a situation where everybody goes,” Swoboda explained. “(Almost) nothing else is more important at that time.”

But they don’t all go to the crime scene, said Sgt. Don Thiel, who was in charge of the morning shift’s patrol officers. Sure, a handful of officers are assigned to go to the bank and start finding out what happened. But that isn’t where anyone is going to catch a quickly escaping robber.

Instead, Echevarria, Henke and the rookie Miller recalled their training. They headed either to busy streets near their assigned patrol areas, where they might intercept the fleeing crooks, or to certain crime-plagued neighborhoods where the robbers might be more likely to live.

Since the Old Second robber had last been seen driving eastbound along Route 20, Echevarria said he drove onto 20 on Elgin’s east side and parked on the shoulder of the highway near Grace Street. Henke and Miller, also patrolling the east side, began working their way toward the busy corner where Shales Parkway, Villa Street, Route 20 and Bluff City Boulevard come together on the far-east side.

Spotted & followed

That worked. Only about five minutes after the report had come over the radio, a white Camry — with temporary license plates, driven by a white man in a hoodie — drove past him. He drove onto the highway and followed the white car as he called over the radio for other officers to provide backup for him in the area of Shales and Route 20. As the white car followed by Echevarria passed Shales Parkway, young Miller fell in behind them. On Echevarria’s radioed request, Miller started driving in the left lane so no other eastbound vehicles could get past them and end up in the line of fire in case a gun battle should break out. Echevarria and Miller turned on their flashing rooftop lights, signaling the Camry driver to pull over.

And he did, without incident, into the parking lot of the Estes Trucking Co. at Route 20 and Lambert Lane. An incident that had begun almost on Elgin’s western border had climaxed at the last piece of land before Route 20 passed the city’s eastern border and entered the village of Bartlett.

Once Henke also had driven up, the three officers took positions they had practiced just a few weeks ago when they underwent training for how to handle a ”felony stop” like this. As they held their handguns, Echevarria called out to the Camry driver to “walk backwards toward the sound of my voice.” The 30-year-old Carol Stream man inside the Camry got out and obeyed the order, without causing any trouble. Soon he was in handcuffs.

The officers declined to reveal what if anything the suspect said, or whether a gun, mask or cash could be seen in the car. They said the car and everything in it later were towed away to be examined by FBI agents, who also took over the investigation and questioned the suspect.

Theriault said the suspect would be held in the city jail overnight, then taken to the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago.

FBI spokeswoman Joan Hyde said the suspect’s name and the charges against him would not be released until charging documents are filed in federal court in Chicago, probably sometime Wednesday.

The police and FBI said the robber had left the bank with cash but they refused to say how much.

Echevarria is a 14-year veteran of the department and Miller was on only his second day. But both said it was the first time they had been involved in arresting a bank robber.

Over 16 years, Henke said, he had done this before.


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