Three recent armed robberies in Howard County, all linked to a pair of masked men, reflect a "higher incidence of firearms being used" in robberies this year, police said yesterday.
Monday and the past two Saturdays, two shotgun-wielding men burst into local businesses and demanded that the employees open the cash register. In each robbery, the men were described as having an aggressive demeanor, wearing gloves and dark clothing, and fleeing on foot after grabbing money from the register. Police have offered a $3,000 reward for information leading to their arrest and conviction.
Spokesman Cpl. Paul Yodzis said that police don't keep statistics on what kinds of weapons are used in robberies but that there is clearly a recent trend toward greater gun use. He noted that more robberies have involved handguns than long weapons such as shotguns.
Since the beginning of the year, Yodzis said, police have investigated 59 street robberies and 34 commercial robberies. He said 27 of the investigations resulted in arrests. Yodzis added that the official crime statistics for the year to date would be out next month.
According to crime statistics available on the Howard County Police Department Web site, nine street robberies and five commercial robberies occurred last month. Police have cleared four of the street robberies but none of the commercial robberies.
"The pace we're on puts us at about average with the last five years," he said.
During the first half of last year, 63 robberies took place in Howard County, according to police crime statistics. Police Chief Wayne Livesay created a robbery task force in April 1999 in response to an unusually high 124 robberies during the first half of that year.
The task force became a permanent five-officer unit headed by Sgt. Karen Shinham.
The latest three robbery targets were the Food Mart in the 6800 block of Cradlerock Way in Columbia, the Royal Farm store in the 4200 block of Montgomery Road in Ellicott City and the Pizza Boli's in the 7000 block of Oakland Mills Road in Columbia.
Yodzis said most Howard commercial robberies take place in two areas: near Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway in Columbia and on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City. The two businesses recently robbed in Columbia are near the first area.
Police advise businesses to keep their windows clear so that police can see in when driving by, to keep the area well-lighted and to limit the amount of money in cash drawers, Yodzis said.