Robber got away from Pittsburgh bank under police surveillance

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Pittsburgh police said this afternoon that they suspect one man is responsible for at least four Squirrel Hill bank robberies, the last one more brazen than the first.

Members of the Robbery Squad who have been conducting surveillance on banks throughout the neighborhood suspect that Joseph Guiney, 33, was behind the Nov. 9 and Saturday robberies of the Citizens Bank on Murray Avenue, spokeswoman Diane Richard said in a news release. Police were already seeking him on charges that he robbed the First National Bank on March 27 and the First Niagara Bank on Halloween.

Ms. Richard said people should consider Mr. Guiney "armed and dangerous" and should not approach him. Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to call the robbery squad at 412-323-7151. Police are offering an unspecified "monetary incentive" for information leading to his arrest.

Police suspect Mr. Guiney narrowly escaped their detection on Saturday morning, when a man armed with a 9 mm gun demanded money from tellers at the Citizens Bank and said: "Give it up. You gave it up last week, so give it up again."

Police said the man showed the teller his weapon and then said, "I don't want to do this but I have a problem."

This was the first time that police said Mr. Guiney showed a weapon during one of the bank robberies. In the first one with with he is charged, a teller told police the suspect "appeared to be nervous." In the second, police said the suspect passed tellers a note saying he had a weapon, but they did not say that he ever showed it.

Robbery detectives were in the area conducting surveillance during the latest robbery but did not make it to the bank in time to catch the culprit, robbery squad Sgt. Lavonnie Bickerstaff said today.

She added that she was not "100 percent sure how close the detectives were."

The robber walked into the Citizens Bank branch at 1801 Murray Ave. about 11:40 a.m., showed a gun and asked for money. He left on foot and ran toward Darlington Avenue with an undisclosed amount of cash.

"We did have detectives in the area checking the banks, and they were not just checking this bank," Sgt. Bickerstaff said. "They were checking all the banks in the Murray Avenue corridor. It can only take a second for a bank to be robbed."

There are numerous banks in the neighborhood along both Murray Avenue and Forbes Avenue around the corner, including a PNC, a Fifth Third, Dollar Bank, First Commonwealth and First Niagara.

"We were looking at all the banks in the area," Sgt. Bickerstaff said. "There were four to five banks we were surveilling. They were at other banks when this incident happened. They drive around, walk around and check the banks."

She said she was unsure if the robber spotted the undercover detectives but acknowledged that he seized -- knowingly or not -- a "little window of opportunity" to strike.

First National Bank on Murray Avenue was robbed Nov. 7. Police quickly arrested Yamin Harris, 18, formerly of the West End and East Liberty.

In the most recent incident, a police dog was brought to the scene but was not successful in tracking the robber.

"Sometimes despite all your best efforts you may not get the actual actor, but we continue to try," Sgt. Bickerstaff said.

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Jonathan D. Silver: or 412-263-1962. First Published November 19, 2012 4:45 PM


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