Gunmen are preying on door-to-door bill collectors in East Baltimore, according to police.
Since October, more than 30 insurance and department store collectors have been robbed by assailants wielding handguns.
Although police have been able to arrest one suspect, others remain at large.
"I've got to get this stuff stopped before one of my collectors is killed," says Michael J. Williams of the United Insurance Co. of America.
Four of his employees, including one woman, quit after they were robbed while making collections, Mr. Williams says.
"For most of the people in the inner city, this is the only way they can pay," he says. "Some of them either don't want to send in their payments or can't afford to pay for the money order. . . . For many of our customers, we have become part of the family. We drive a lot of them to the store or even take them shopping."
RTC He says he has more than 100 collectors on the street, about 28 of them on the east side of the city.
Police Maj. Alvin A. Winkler, commander of the Eastern District, says he hadn't been aware that there were so many bill collectors on the streets until the robberies began to be reported.
"We've got more bill collectors going around than police officers. I thought those days [of door-to-door bill collectors] were gone with the soda trucks with no covers," Major Winkler says.
Police say they believe the thefts are the work of different groups of robbers.
Major Winkler says part of the problem is that the collectors haven't been able to provide very good descriptions.
"It doesn't help if you ain't doing nothing but looking down the barrel of the gun," he says.
Mr. Williams says he even sent a bodyguard along with one bill collector and both of them were robbed.
"It's a sign of the times, I guess. We know on occasion that the bad guy is going to catch up with you. But, it's Dodge City out there now," he says.
Police say Michael Tyrone Murphy Jr., 19, of the 2000 block of Hillenwood Road, has been charged with two of the robberies.
Warrants are issued for Eric Brown, 22, of the 4800 block of Gilray Drive, and James Gray, 19, of the 2100 block of Barclay St., in other of the robberies, police say.