Why Cops Name Criminals

This is a rush transcript from "The Big Story With John Gibson," August 6, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

JOHN GIBSON, "BIG STORY" HOST: The "Big Crime": Tonight a manhunt is on for two armed robbers who held up a Chase Bank in Louisville, Kentucky, and opened fire. The two masked men shot one employee in the stomach and another in the arm before taking off with the loot. The police found the getaway car shortly after, but the two suspects remain at large right now.

Perhaps they should give this dangerous duo a nickname. That has helped authorities get their man or woman in the past. Catchy names help catch crooks, and that is what the FBI and other law enforcement agencies say. They say naming criminals like the "Ponytail Bandit" or "Spiderman" or the "Barbie Bandits" generates more interest in the case and therefore bring in more tips.

With me now is Tom Simon. He's a FBI special agent in Chicago. Tom, why does naming these bandits work?

TOM SIMON, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, really, two reasons. One, in Chicago alone, we had over 300 bank robberies last year. So we name these bank robbers to keep track of them ourselves internally. But also it serves a really important marketing purpose for the FBI, to get the word out for these bank robbers in hopes that someone from the public is going to watch that news story or read about them in the paper, based upon some clever nickname we give them, call it in and let us do our job by catching the bank robber.

GIBSON: Crooks have had a name for a long time. How long has the FBI been consciously or actively, aggressively trying to give cute names to crooks?

SIMON: I have 12 years experience in the FBI and we've certainly been doing it throughout the course of my career. And I think you can look at "Billy the Kid" of giving bank robbers and criminals clever nicknames in hopes of capturing the public's attention, because the cooperation of the public, particularly in bank robberies, is the cornerstone of our investigations. Normally, the FBI is very tight-lipped about the nature of our investigations, but bank robbery is the exception to that rule, where we really seek the public's help and the publicity from the media.

GIBSON: Tom, let's take the "Ponytail Bandit," which was recently a girl, a young, blond girl with a University of Texas Longhorns cap on, going in to rob a bank in Austin. Would people have remembered that blond young woman if you hadn't called her the "Ponytail Bandit"?

SIMON: Well perhaps, because again, blond young women are unusual bank robbers, statistically. But giving her the name the "Ponytail Bandit," again, hopefully will capture the public's imagination and make them pay attention, as opposed to calling her the Texas Longhorn bandit or some other nickname that she might be able to change at a moment's notice.

GIBSON: Do you ever try to just make the bandit mad? Sort of insult them?

SIMON: We try not to get too personal. We don't really call people the big nose ugly bandit or anything like that.

GIBSON: Why not?

SIMON: Because the whole purpose of this is not to antagonize someone, it's to help identify them. Keep in mind this is a marketing tool much more so than an investigative tool for us.

GIBSON: Tom Simon, a FBI agent, naming crooks. Tom, thanks very much. Keep up with those clever names.

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