A spate of armed robberies in North Baltimore is taking its toll on businesses and residents in the Roland Park area and leaving city police wishing they had more officers on the street.
"There's absolute fear, anger and surprise," said Pattie Schwartz, chairwoman of the Roland Park Civic League's crime committee. "The criminals have seen that Roland Park is easy. We're not going to be easy anymore," she said.
Ms. Schwartz has lived in Roland Park -- an affluent neighborhood of large, stately homes and quiet tree-lined streets -- for four years. She said the area is being targeted because residents "aren't expecting crime, aren't used to it and we don't have our guard up."
"We have been in dialogue with the police department, but it is short of money and bodies," she said.
No foot patrol officers have been directly assigned to the Roland Park area, but police said they do try to provide foot coverage by officers working the Govans area. A bicycle patrol and plainclothes officers also make rounds in the neighborhoods.
"There has been an upswing of commercial and street robberies in the areas surrounding Roland Avenue, Falls Road and West Cold Spring Lane," said Sgt. Dennis Rosemary of the Northern District's robbery unit.
"If it weren't for manpower restraints, we would give the robberies as much attention as they demand," said Sergeant Rosemary. "We follow up as best we can. More police presence would be one deterrent."
Police acknowledged last week that there have been at least 11 armed robberies in the area since May, but said they could not provide specific numbers. Residents say the number of armed robberies is far higher than that.
In reaction to the crimes, the community group has hired a private security guard, who began patrolling the area between Wyndhurst Avenue and Cold Spring Lane last month, Ms. Schwartz said.
Margaret Hardesty, of the 300 block of W. Cold Spring Lane, said the commercial strip on her street invites the crime.
"It was a residential neighborhood at first. But now there are too many avenues of getting away," she said. "Criminals can hit anywhere around here, then they are out of sight. We have to do something about it or cope with it."
Some businesses have reacted to the crimes by installing bullet-proof glass inside the stores and buzzers on the doors that sound when a customer enters and exits.
"What can we do but just be careful?" said Albert Yau, who had bullet-proof glass installed in his Chow Mein Charlie restaurant, although it has never been robbed. "There are too many trees in the area, the sidewalks aren't bright enough and more foot patrol officers would help."
The most recent robbery occurred Aug. 6 at the Roland Park Exxon in the 5400 block of Falls Road when two men drove into the station around 3:30 p.m., pretended to be customers, then pulled out a silver revolver and a semiautomatic handgun, police said.
The men forced two employees and three customers into a back room, robbed them of money and jewelry and made off with an undisclosed sum from the station's cash register, police said.
It was the third time the service station had been hit since May.
A suspect in the May 31 robbery of the service station was arrested last month in the city, and police are investigating the man and his brother -- who is on Maryland's Most Wanted list -- in connection with scores of armed robberies.
City police arrested Henry Witherspoon, 40, of the 5000 block of Copley Road, on July 30 and charged him in four armed robberies -- two of them in the Roland Park area.
Baltimore County police have issued a warrant for Henry Witherspoon on handgun charges in the robbery of a convenience store. They want him for questioning in 25 other county robberies since April.
City police charged him with robbing the Harbor Bank of Maryland in the 5000 block of Park Heights Ave. on July 9; the Royal Farm store in the 1100 block of W. 41st St. on July 3; the Royal Farm store in the 200 block of W. Cold Spring Lane on June 15; and the Roland Park Exxon on May 31.
Meanwhile, city and county police and the FBI have issued warrants for his brother, Kenneth Witherspoon, 36, of the 5000 block of Pembridge Ave., for a handful of local robberies and the holdup of a Salisbury bank.
County police believe Kenneth Witherspoon may be linked to the 25 other robberies they want to ask his brother about, said Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger, spokesman for county police.
Kenneth Witherspoon is being sought by county police on robbery and handgun charges stemming from the July 20 holdups of a Royal Farm store in the 2400 block of E. Joppa Road in Carney, and then about 10 minutes later, the Crown gasoline station at Loch Raven Boulevard and Joppa Road.
He remains at large after bailing out of a car and outrunning a county officer in pursuit after the two robberies.