| Crime |

With bank robberies on the rise, the Safe Streets Task Force is on the case!

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It's starting to feel like the Wild West around here, with banks getting stuck up left and right. Monday, two banks got hit, with a third knocked over yesterday.

The FBI believes the perpetrators of this last job, who've they've named the "Hopping Hooded Bandits" because of their attire and hopping-over-the-counter takeover style, were responsible for heists on December 2 and December 9 as well. But the Hopping Hooded Bandits aren't alone in their dastardly deeds. All in all, there've been six robberies in the metro area in five days.

Which makes you wonder: Who's responsible for solving these ongoing crimes, especially when the perps rob banks in various jurisdictions? (The Hopping Hooded Bandits, for example, have allegedly hit banks in both Denver and Aurora.) The answer is as intriguing as the bank robberies themselves: The Rocky Mountain Safe Streets Task Force, an FBI operation Westword wrote about last year. The task force recruits the best of the best from the metro area's detective squads to track down the worst of the worst.

Colorado has long been a bank-robbery hot bed, for whatever the reason. In 2005, robbers hit 214 banks in Colorado, the vast majority in the metro area, landing the state in the number-thirteen spot for bank robberies, right behind much larger Florida. But after 9/11, the FBI, sidetracked by homeland security, had far fewer resources do deal with the stick-up artists. That's why, in 2004, the agency started Rocky Mountain Safe Streets, a cooperative agency with local police departments.

The crew's got some serious street cred: Last year, its clearance rate hovered around 70 percent, one of the best of all 131 Safe Streets squads around the country. But these colorful gumshoes also seem straight out of a kids' detective cartoon.

Take their headquarters: Safe Streets is based in a nearly-empty old building in a far corner of National Western Stock Show grounds -- where the rumbling freight trains going by are constantly setting off the detectives' car alarms. There's even an old, gaping wall safe in one of the offices downstairs; it was ravaged by gunslingers in 1921 and made the New York Times.

The fifteen or so agents and detectives who call the place home like to liven things up when they're not deep into a heist case by, for instance, putting up wanted posters featuring the faces of their Safe Streets colleagues. They also get a kick out of naming bank robbers, which helps them keep different perps straight and the public interested. The Hooded Safe Bandits, the Military-Style Bandits and the $83 Bandit are some of their creations.

So keep hopping, Hopping Hooded Bandits: Rocky Mountain Safe Streets is on your tail.

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