Expensive bullet-resistant glass apparently has done what Montgomery County police and technology failed to do in 1983: prevent robberies at the Bank of Bethesda's Westwood branch, which in less than a year earned the dubious distinction of being the most-robbed bank in Montgomery.
"We just had to do it. Our employes were scared stiff," said Bank of Bethesda President Louis Rowe of the costly renovations to the branch at 5450 Westbard Ave. The bank was robbed five times between December 1982 -- when it was robbed twice in eight days -- and November 1983.
There were ironic twists to two of the holdups. On Oct. 28, 1983, the Westwood branch was robbed slightly more than one hour after a District man was sentenced to 30 years in prison for holding up the same bank nine months earlier.
And the November 1983 holdup occurred while a marked police car was parked in front and a plainclothes police officer was inside the bank.
Rowe said the fifth Westwood robbery persuaded the company to install floor-to-ceiling panes of bullet-resistant glass at eight branches. The glass encloses tellers and is designed to prevent robbers from vaulting over the counter and rifling through cash drawers, as happened in at least one of the Westwood robberies.
"We had to react," Rowe said. "We were a small 'country' bank for 65 years with no previous problems. And then the robberies hit."
Rowe declined to disclose the cost of the security renovations or the amount of money stolen last year.
The renovations apparently paid off: Rowe said there have been no holdups at the Westwood branch this year.
Still, the bank is taking at least one other precaution. "We're telling our employes: 'Don't get complacent,' " Rowe said. "Watch yourselves all the time."