Two Laurel men have been charged with the armed robberies of two county convenience stores hit during a wave of recent holdups that police say may be a consequence of the current recession.
So far this year, 91 robberies have been reported, 45 of them in the past three months, compared to 90 robberies for all of 1990.
"It's hard to say why they happen so much sometimes and not others, but a lot of the people we arrest tend to be unemployed people that say they were just looking for money to live on," said Thomas M. Martin, a county police detective.
"Right now, there's a lot of people out there who are having money problems," Martin said.
The two Laurel men charged, Darryl Raynard Hatch, 23, of the 9300 block of Trader's Crossing, and Patrick Francis Jenkins, 34, of 9th Street, are both unemployed and are in jail awaiting trial on other charges, Martin said.
Police said the men were linked to the robberies through a videotape recorded at one of the robbery sites.
Both men are charged through warrants with the Sept. 4 holdup of the High's store in the 7600 block of Murray Hill Road in Columbia and with the Sept. 2 robbery of the Amoco convenience store in the 5800 block of U.S. 1.
Hatch is being held at the Prince George's County Detention Center on unspecified bond for a previous armed robbery. Jenkins is being held on $500 bond at the Howard County Detention Center for a burglary offense.
Many robberies in Howard County occur at convenience stores and motels, which often have only one person on duty during the evening.
In a tip sheet, police advise businesses to have two people on hand at opening and closing, the times when robbers are most likely to strike.
But "there's really not much you can do to predict them, or to prevent them," said Michael Sherman, a county police spokesman. "There will always be people out there who see these places as an easy target."
Sherman said harsh economic times, as well as drugdependency, are two of the more accepted explanations for armed robbery increases. Howard County's growing population also has added to the problem, he said.
Even with the latest surge in armed robberies, Howard County is still nowhere near a record-setting pace. In 1989,police investigated 161 robberies, nearly double last year's total.
"Economically, that wasn't that bad of a year," Sherman said. "Butpeople still seemed desperate to get money."