The number of armed robberies in Charles County this year is more than double the figure from the same period in 2004, according to statistics from the Charles County Sheriff's Office.
From Jan. 1 through Aug. 16, 78 armed robberies were committed -- 44 against residents and 34 against businesses. Over the same period last year, 32 armed robberies occurred -- 14 against residents and 18 against businesses.
The statistic is troubling, but the year isn't over, and, with small numbers, little changes from year to year can look more significant than they are, said Capt. Joseph C. Montminy of the sheriff's office.
"If it continues at this rate, it is a problem," Montminy said. "It's something we've got to address."
Montminy attributed a general increase in crime to the county's growing population but said other factors may have contributed to the rise, too.
Sheriff Frederick E. Davis (R) has emphasized traffic safety because of the high number of traffic deaths this year. Deputies also have to deal with new homeland security duties. Combine all these factors, and deputies are stretched thin.
"The problem is that the sheriff's office -- and police agencies everywhere -- are doing more than ever before with less," Montminy said.
Statistics for armed robberies before last year were not immediately available, but the sheriff's office presented Charles County statistics from Maryland's Uniform Crime Report, which show the total number of robberies -- with and without weapons -- that occurred in a given year.
These statistics reveal a more gradual increase from 124 in 1999 to 159 last year, with a peak of 186 in 2002. But because the statistics don't distinguish between armed and other robberies, an increase in one kind of robbery could be masked by a decrease in the other.
Shanta Ford, 25, who lives in the Smallwood neighborhood of Waldorf, said that a lot of the businesses around her had been robbed and that she wanted more police patrols.
She was not surprised to learn of the increase in armed robberies this year.
"It's really getting bad out here," she said. "If kids would have more to do here, it wouldn't be as bad."
In Soon Pak, 48, who owns a convenience store and gas station at St. Charles Parkway and St. Marks Drive, has seen a number of robberies and other crimes this year.
A sign on the door says: "We're serious about security. No hats, hoods, headgear, sunglasses."
About 9:45 p.m. March 31, two masked men burst into the store. One pointed a shotgun at the cashier, and the other came around the counter.
Pak was standing nearby in the store.
"My employee, he don't want to open register," she said. "[The gunman] was mad. He want to shoot."
Pak opened the register and gave the robber $100 from below the counter. "He touched my head and said, 'Thank you, baby.' "
In February, that man had robbed a customer in the parking lot, Pak said police told her.
And in April, a 17-year-old boy was asked whether he wanted to buy marijuana. When the boy said no, he was punched in the eye.
Pak's store backs onto a thickly wooded area, and she and local homeowners complain that criminals can just slip back into the woods to elude detection.
"It's not just my store," she said.
Indeed, the sheriff's office has reported seven armed robberies this month, two of them occurring in the same neighborhood as Pak's store.
At 12:36 a.m. Aug. 3, a 22-year-old Waldorf woman was robbed at knifepoint on Smallwood Drive, east of Copley Avenue. The attackers came out of the woods.
At 10:42 p.m. that day, a woman and three men were robbed by a group of three attackers in the 12100 block of Ell Lane in Waldorf. A week later, on Aug. 10, a shopper at Home Depot in Waldorf said he did not have money to pay for two power drills, showed the cashier a gun in his waistband and walked out of the store with the drills.
Two armed robberies occurred Aug. 11: the first when a gunman robbed Linda's General Store at 1970 Liverpool Point Rd. in Nanjemoy and the other when three men robbed the Super 8 Motel at 3550 Crain Hwy. in Waldorf at gunpoint, according to the sheriff's office.
About 9:30 p.m. Aug. 13, in the 100 block of St. Patrick's Drive in Waldorf, a 21-year-old Waldorf man was assaulted by two men who indicated they were armed, the sheriff's office said. Three days later, the Comfort Suites at 11765 Business Park Dr. in Waldorf was robbed by two men brandishing handguns, according to the sheriff's office.
Despite the spate of armed robberies, Montminy believes that most of these crimes are being committed by a small number of criminals.
"There are not a ton of armed robbers; it's a small group committing lots of armed robberies. Some groups of youngsters do one a night," he said. "When we arrest them, we will solve a lot of cases."