By Mark E. Vogler
---- — LAWRENCE — Lawrence and Methuen police detectives have formed a task force with the FBI to review a string of six bank robberies in the two cities since Jan. 30.
“We’re getting together to compare notes and see if there are any similarities or connections in the robberies,” Lawrence Police Chief John Romero said of the first meeting of the agencies, set for this afternoon at the Lawrence Police Department.
“Perhaps we are dealing with the same people in some of these robberies. That’s yet to be established. But we know our two robberies appear to have been committed by the same individual at the same bank,” Romero said of the two recent heists at the TD Bank branch at 305 S. Broadway.
Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon said he believes there is a link between the Lawrence and Methuen robberies.
“We believe the people in last two (robberies) in Lawrence were also involved in some of the ones in Methuen,” Solomon said.
“Now that it’s across the border (of the two cities), we have Lawrence involved. It’s really become a regional issue. A person can move from one city to another. So, we’re getting together to coordinate our efforts and go over all six of the robberies,” he said.
Before the Lawrence bank robberies and soon after the second robbery in Methuen, Methuen police began working with two other police departments outside the area, according to Solomon. He declined to identify the two police departments, saying it might jeopardize the ongoing probe.
Five of the six robberies have involved TD Bank branches. All but one of the cases involved a handgun. In each of the robberies, the suspect was similarly dressed in a hooded sweatshirt with his face partially concealed with a mask.
“There are some things we believe that may in fact have some connection to Methuen, but we are not at liberty to say at this point,” Romero said.
Meanwhile, police in both cities have been reaching out to the banking community, offering advice on how to protect themselves from future robberies and urging them to be observant and report suspicious behavior to police immediately.
About five weeks ago, Methuen police met with representatives of the city’s 19 banks and credit unions, according to Solomon.
“We’ve been having the banks call about suspicious cars outside,” Solomon said.
“Part of the training and community outreach not only involves situational awareness, but also target hardening — putting in safety measures that make it more difficult to successfully commit a bank robbery. We can’t discuss those measures, but we have put them in place,” he said.
Solomon has urged the general public to help too.
“We ask that anybody who is going into a bank and out of a bank to take a few seconds and look around. If you see anyone suspicious, call 911 regardless of any city you’re in,” he said.
In addition to the community outreach, Methuen police have assigned a detective full-time to coordinate the research and investigation of the bank robberies. Anyone with information that might help solve the robberies should call Methuen police Detective John DeLano at 978-983-8712.
Romero said similar crime prevention efforts are underway in Lawrence. Citizens with possible tips or information about the robberies should call the department’s Detective Division at 978-794-5900.
“We’ve had conversation with some of the banks in the area. That’s part of the discussion for the meeting (today), to develop a strategy, Romero said.
The six bank robberies:
April 3: At about 4 p.m., a masked and hooded man brandishing a hand gun walked into the TD Bank branch at 305 S. Broadway in Lawrence and ran out with a bag full of cash. Police believe the suspect also committed the March 28 robbery.
March 28: At around 5:20 p.m., a masked and hooded man with a handgun walked into the TD Bank branch at 305 S. Broadway in Lawrence and ran out with a bag full of cash.
March 12: At about 10:45 a.m., a masked and hooded man showed a gun at the NESC Federal Credit Union at 244 Pleasant St. in Methuen
March 1: A man in a dark hooded sweatshirt and a mask made from a T-shirt with two eye holes cut into it showed a gun and made off with an undetermined amount of cash in a robbery at about 7:45 p.m. at the TD Bank Branch at 91 Pleasant Valley St. in Methuen. He left in a silver Honda-like sedan.
Feb. 21: A man in a gray hooded sweatshirt and a T-shirt with a large hole used as a mask showed a handgun at the TD Bank branch at 527 Broadway in Methuen, near the Salem, N.H. line and made off with cash at 6:27 p.m. He left in a white Nissan toward Lawrence with two other people in the car.
Jan. 30: A man with a goatee, sunglasses and dark hooded sweatshirt held up a TD Bank branch at 228 Haverhill St. in Methuen just after noon on Jan. 30. He told the teller he had a knife.