Armed robberies rock Baltimore's Roland Park NTC

August 15, 1993|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,Staff Writer

A spate of armed robberies in North Baltimore is taking its toll on businesses and neighbors 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 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 door buzzers that sound when a customer enters or exits.

"What can we do but just be careful?" asked 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 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 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.

City and county police and the FBI have issued warrants for his brother, Kenneth Witherspoon, 36, of the 5000 block of Pembridge Ave., in a handful of local robberies and the holdup of a Salisbury bank.

"I wouldn't venture to say the same individual or individuals are doing all of them," Sergeant Rosemary said. "Prior to these robberies, I don't think Roland Park was considered a high-crime area. It's just a sign of the times. More people are getting involved in violent crimes."

Jerry Graham, a Roland Park Exxon employee for almost two months, agreed and said the businesses must adjust.

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