Pikesville merchants, shoppers feel unease after officer's death

Reisterstown Road patrols have lowered crime, police say

February 10, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Crime may be down along Pikesville's main thoroughfare, but the killing of an off-duty police officer in a jewelry store robbery Monday has put neighboring merchants and customers on edge.

Police said that after a spate of robberies in 1996, they beefed up security in the area and the numbers dropped dramatically along the two-mile stretch of Reisterstown Road.

But many of those who work and shop in Pikesville say they don't feel any safer.

"You do what you have to do to be on your toes at all times," said Ofer Minka, a jeweler whose store is about a mile south of the shooting scene.

Sgt. Bruce A. Prothero, 35, was shot and killed about 11: 15 a.m. Monday while working as a security guard at J. Brown Jewelers in the 1800 block of Reisterstown Road.

The 12-year police veteran was killed outside the store as he chased two men who had grabbed jewelry and fled to a gray Oldsmobile Delta 88 waiting in the store parking lot.

Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman, said that when the number of robberies in Pikesville reached 94 in 1996, county police began reinforcement efforts.

The county opened a Pikesville substation in 1998 in the 600 block of Reisterstown Road and staffed it with 25 officers from the Garrison Precinct, he said.

Police also began to use state money to pay officers overtime to investigate robberies and assigned a three-member team of officers to walk beats in Pikesville, conduct door-to-door security surveys of merchants and get to know shop owners and customers.

Merchants agree that police have become more visible.

"There's much more of a police presence these days. You see the police around. They're on foot, they're on bikes, they're in patrol cars," said Nancy Garfinkel, executive director of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce.

Consistent crime drop

The efforts have paid off with a consistent drop in crime, police say.

Lt. Kevin Novak, a police spokesman, said the number of robberies in the Pikesville area dropped from 94 in 1996 to 33 last year.

There were 65 robberies in 1997 and 40 in 1998, Novak said.

Assigning officers to foot patrols "played a huge hand" in reducing robberies, said Sgt. Barry Blevins, who leads the investigative services team in the Garrison Precinct.

But merchants, police and security experts also say that the Pikesville's commercial corridor area may attract crime because of its proximity to the Baltimore Beltway, which offers criminals a quick getaway route.

The corridor includes a large number of stores concentrated in a small area, including many with expensive merchandise, said Capt. Stephen Vaughan, commander of the Garrison Precinct.

"It's always been known as a spot that can attract the wrong kind of people, the criminal element from Washington and New York," said James Davenport, a retired Baltimore County police detective and security consultant who was assigned to the Pikesville corridor in the 1980s.

Security concerns have prompted some extra precautions among merchants.

Javin Scher's pizza shop is across Reisterstown Road from the police substation, but the store has used security cameras for several years.

"It's generally safe here, but there's always a chance something will happen," Scher said. "There's a chance of it anywhere."

Minka uses a buzzer lock to admit customers to his jewelry store.

Minka said that he's never been robbed in the five years he's operated Uptown Jewelers in the 1400 block of Reisterstown Road.

The police alert him to any robberies in Maryland with wanted posters and circulars that describe incidents at other stores in Maryland and include suspect descriptions.

He keeps the circulars in a back office and studies them each day to make sure he will spot any suspects that come into his store.

Minka agrees the police are highly visible along Reisterstown Road but said that in general, society seems to be getting more violent.

"They'll hit all kinds of stores, in all kinds of neighborhoods, and these days they're more likely to have a gun and use it," he said.

Customers who frequent the shops near the shooting scene said they generally feel safe in the community but that security is always on their minds.

"It's generally safe, but I wouldn't walk down these streets at night," said Caren Beccaglia of Upperco, who was shopping Tuesday at the Festival at Woodholme Shopping Center, an upscale collection of shops across Reisterstown Road from the shooting scene.

Keeping an eye out

Herb Davis, a real estate property manager who also shops at the Woodholme center, said that he never shops at night and always walks in sections of parking lots that give the greatest visibility.

"I make it a point to always keep my eye out, looking to my left and my right when I leave a store," Davis said. "You just never know these days."

Sun staff writer Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this article.

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