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Metro Toronto, already experiencing a record-breaking year for robberies, was hit by a crime wave of 27 holdups in just over 24 hours.

With a recession taking its toll, and the holiday season pouring out shoppers with cash, bandits are sweeping the metro area in record numbers, police say.

Along with the crime spree that occurred Tuesday, more than 300 bank holdups have occurred this year -- breaking the 1983 record -- and police expect a record number of small-business robberies.

Detective Sgt. Robert Spires of the Metro Police Holdup Squad places much of the blame on increased drug use. "People who are on drugs see the banks as a quick and easy source of money."

The 1983 record for bank robberies was broken Monday when No. 305 was racked up by a man wearing a baseball cap who slipped a threatening note to a teller and got away with a small amount of cash. While most of this year's bank robberies been made without anyone's being hurt, there is always the presence of "implied violence," Spires said.

Bandits have used sawed-off rifles, handguns, shotguns and even a fake bomb, but a popular "weapon" remains the finger in the pocket -- pointed, so that it looks like a gun.

While 70 percent of holdup suspects are arrested, several bandits have racked up a series of successful heists, said Detective Inspector Leo Campbell.

One, nicknamed the "Shoulder Bag Bandit," is believed responsible for up to 25 bank robberies in southwestern Ontario during the past 18 months. The nickname comes from the khaki-colored knapsack or duffel bag that the 6-foot thief usually carries during robberies, Detective Howie Hunton said.

The "Shoulder Bag Bandit" is wanted for robberies in Metro Toronto, Oshawa, Hamilton, St. Catharines, London and Niagara Falls.

Metro Police Chief Bill McCormack said he's never seen anything like the crime spree on Tuesday, in which a record 27 holdups took place in just over 24 hours. Five banks, six variety stores, four taxi and delivery drivers, three fast food outlets, four pedestrians, a health food store, clothing store, gas bar, video store and a teen-ager at his school were robbed.

As a result of the holdups, seven people were hurt, including a 22-year-old taxi driver who was hospitalized after being stabbed with a knife. McCormack said his biggest concern was "the amount of weapons and the use of weapons by young people."

As of Nov. 28, Metro police recorded 32,526 violent crimes, an increase of almost 4,000 from the same time last year. Year to year, robberies were up by 800 to 4,203. That includes 310 bank robberies and close to 1,000 small-business holdups, up from 873 last year.

"It's not just us; cities across the country are experiencing this," McCormack said.

According to a study by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, the number of women being charged with violent crimes has doubled in the past decade.

Last year, almost 10,000 women were charged with violent crimes, twice as many as in 1980 and 12 times as many as in 1962. In the study, violent crimes included murder and attempted murder, assault, sexual offenses, robberies and abductions.

Although women only accounted for 15 percent of the 743,553 criminal offenses last year, "crime by women is definitely on the increase," said Deputy chief David Cowan. Despite the boom in violent crime, the overall crime rate among women has leveled off in the past decade after climbing in the 1960s and 1970s.

Criminologist Rosemary Gartner of the University of Toronto said the Canadian numbers are part of a 20-year trend in the Western World. Drugs and the rise of urban street gangs are all part of a steady rise in violent crime across North America and Europe, she said.

"The problem is not a gender problem," said Michael Dear, metro police director of records and information security. "Society is becoming more violent. Whether it be male or female, the pressures are there."

Factors contributing to the rise of violent crime by women, Gartner said, are that women often are trapped in low-paying jobs, the increase of impoverished single mothers, and a growing gap between rich and poor,

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