Walking into Longyearbyen’s bank building wearing a facemask (and maybe even carrying a rifle in a case) might not immediately alarm many locals. But the idea of a person making a successful getaway after the first-ever armed robbery there is comically bewildering.
Which is why the “WTF,” “LOL” and humorous emoticon posts far outnumbered the shock and dismay messages on social media in the immediate hours after a man was arrested on suspicion of the robbery shortly after it occurred at 10:40 a.m. Friday (see selection of posts below).
Sure, the robber could take advantages of certain advantages largely unique to Longyearbyen such as 24-hour darkness, winter wonderland weather making bulky concealing clothing a natural fit, and an overwhelming percentage of residents who own rifles due to the need to carry them outside the city limits in case of polar bears. But thinking about a quick getaway in a small town on an isolated Arctic island with few roads and very limited flight/boat options clearly involves the mind of less than a master criminal.
Being less than “Ocean’s 11”-caliber crooks ourselves, here’s a walkthrough of the advantages and (much bigger) disadvantages of attempting a successful local bank robbery to celebrate the winter solstice:
• Weather (advantage): The temperature was about 0ºC at about 10:40 a.m. Friday and a few centimeters of fresh snow were on the ground. So walking into the building in the center of town housing the bank and post office while wearing a facemask (or snowmobile helmet with a face shield) and body-concealing winter clothing could pass as ordinary (if perhaps excessive given what locals would consider relatively mild conditions).
• Darkness (advantage): Longyearbyen has been shrouded in 24-hour darkness for several weeks at the midpoint of the three-and-a-half-month long polar night. So a person attempting to make a getaway from the immediate vicinity would be harder for witnesses to describe and blend in easier with other foot/vehicle traffic away from the immediate vicinity of the building.
• Bad guy with a gun (advantage): While the robber’s weapon of choice hasn’t been officially revealed (making much of the following moot if it was a handgun), bringing a rifle – even in a proper case – into a public building is a no-no except where’s there a designated storage locker. But people (especially in full snowmobile gear) have been seen walking into cafes and stores with weapons slung across their backs without intervention, presumably in the belief they’re making quick grab-and-go stops. Combine that with the simple fact nobody is expecting an armed robbery when none have occurred means the culprit wouldn’t raise the immediate alarm that would occur almost anywhere. (That said, if things got confrontational there would almost certainly be a lot of Good Guys With A Gun very close by.).
• Timing (advantage/disadvantage): The bank was open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and due to the holidays (when many locals visit their hometowns/families on the mainland) pedestrian traffic along the town’s main walkway was sparse to the point of nobody being in sight. But waiting until a multitude of nearby cafes and stores opened at 10 a.m. ensured a lot more potential witnesses/interlopers might be present outside or in the post office picking up and mailing gifts.
• Immediate getaway (advantage/disadvantage): Obviously there are security cameras and the town’s tiny size means police will likely arrive between one and five minutes of the alarm sounding. Pretty much everyone in town within conversation range or a social media hookup will know shortly after that. And committing a Historic Crime means authorities, the media and public are going to be highly tuned in and on the lookout. For now we’re bypassing CSI-like unknowns such as hair/skin samples and money baited with exploding dye packs. Still, a person with a snowmobile able to get a few hundred meters away into the darkness of the local web of trails probably could escape wandering eyes by fleeing to some camping spot (or cabin in they had access, albeit at risk of getting paid a visit) where they could hide out until the weather, lack of supplies and/or polar bears became a more perilous prospect than prison.
• Actual getaway (DISADVANTAGE): Not that the all-caps are needed to explain this is the main reason the witty are outnumbering the woeful on social media, but the reason crimes that are common elsewhere like auto thefts and robberies are virtually unknown here is the inability to get elsewhere. That’s especially true in December when the cruise and other expedition ships that bring tens of thousands of visitors to and from town are obviously absent. So the only getaway option is the airport, where two commercial flights departed on Friday at 11:45 a.m. and 2:10 p.m. (there are also two flights at similar times Saturday and Sunday). Trying to make a quick exit on the first flight might seem ideal – indeed, our editor’s camera and a couple of others were stolen a few years ago by someone just before hoping on a departing flight. But someone dropping a passenger off for the first flight today said the robbery was already pretty much the only subject of conversation. So good luck escaping the already stringent notice of security officials who already conduct routine passport checks and obviously would be on uber-alert.
‘What a dork!!!’
The following – minus the abundance of emoticons – are a representative range of the hundreds of comments and posts on Facebook during the hours immediately after the robbery:
• “It must simply have been an idiot. Based on the misunderstanding that it is possible to leave the island on your own…or insanity…or maybe a combination of both.”
• “Everyone with their full five senses understands that Svalbard is the last place in the world you perform such a hopeless action.”
• “This lame case is going to go viral. Absolutely everything is wrong. Think of an island with five miles of road and nowhere to go to.”
• “A lot of reckless comments here. There are actually people who work in that bank that have been given a traumatic experience.”
• “Nobody is laughing at the person behind the counter. I bet nobody would want to be him/her. But the rest is just ridiculous.”