Frustrated by the continued success of a band of robbers, and possibly one or more copycat groups, Baltimore County police have turned to the force's FBI-trained criminal profiler for help.
Detective Sam Bowerman, whose work more often than not involves unsolved murders, yesterday was asked to turn his attention to the gang, or gangs, that continue to terrorize shopkeepers in the county and city.
On Tuesday night, a Perry Hall fast-food outlet was robbed by three men, two armed with shotguns. On Monday afternoon, a bank near Westview was robbed, and two McDonald's outletswere robbed Sunday, continuing a string of at least 26 similar robberies dating to Halloween.
In Baltimore, Agent Arlene Jenkins said city police have stepped up patrols and surveillance activities, but she declined to give specifics, fearing it might aid the robbers.
Likewise, E. Jay Miller, the county police spokesman, said officers were stepping up patrols, and robbery detectives were making special efforts to prevent the robberies and catch the thieves.
Police in both jurisdictions are sharing information and working closely together. They also are continuing their search for Sadiyq Abdullah Muhammed, also known as Tony Bedford, a 19-year-old charged in more than seven of the crimes.
At one supermarket in the city, the Valu Food store at Frankford Avenue and Belair Road, the manager there said he has noticed a greater police presence since a Feb. 25 holdup there.
"I feel safer," said the man, who was struck three times on the head during the holdup when he didn't open the store safe fast enough.
The manager said his store has installed security cameras and has stationed additional security personnel "all over the store."
Although Bowerman has not had time to study all of the similar armed robberies in great detail, he is familiar with them. As a criminal profiler, he studies details of crimes in search of clues and the perpetrators' thought process.
He believes that in the core group of criminals, one or two young men with "a Wild West mentality" are the leaders, the ones who have forced workers to open safes and struck them when they didn't comply quickly enough.
The other members of the gang, Bowerman believes, have gone along with the successful string of robberies, thrilled by the excitement and the money, but not wanting anyone to get hurt, either.
Some of these followers may now be troubled by the escalating brutality of the robberies. Last week, a Pikesville hotel clerk was shot and in other recent robberies, people have been hit.
But these people are bound by the group and fearful of questioning the actions of the leaders, Bowerman surmises.
Among his other thoughts:
* The apparent need for such large amounts of cash obviously points to heavy narcotics use.
* Members of the group must be bragging about their triumphs to girlfriends and others.
"They're not operating in a vacuum," he said. "There are other people who know what's going on."
As Bowerman sees it, those who are not directly involved, but know what is going on, have a duty to stop these robberies before someone gets killed.
"They may want to call the police, but certainly they're afraid," he said. "But where there's a will, there's a way. Their identity can be protected."