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Police aim to crack down on crime on I-295 footbridge

Highway and Road TransportationTheftTom QuirkHalloweenMaryland State PoliceCVS Health

Robin Costello lives on Freeway, only a couple of blocks away from the notorious pedestrian footbridge across Interstate-295 that connects Lansdowne and Baltimore Highlands.

She said that despite a recent rash of armed robberies in the area, she thinks the area is safer now then when she moved to the neighborhood eight years ago.

But, she admits, she doesn't use the footbridge.

"No, it's too scary," she said.

"They need to do something with that bridge," she added. "It's a shame they can't shut it down."

The bridge was built during the 1950s as a pedestrian route over the parkway from behind the residences on Freeway, on the Riverview side of I-295, to Twin Circle Way on the Baltimore Highlands side.

Capt. John Spiroff, commander of Wilkens Police Station, which patrols Lansdowne, said police identified a trend of crime in the area and increased patrols in the area with uniformed and plain-clothed officers.

"As soon as we were seeing these armed street crimes, we went into immediate action," Spiroff said. "It's an area where we've seen an increasing number of street robberies."

At around 7 p.m. on Jan. 21, two men approached another man on the footbridge and demanded he empty his pockets. After the man refused, the two knocked him to the ground and stole his cell phone, money, wallet, bank card and watch.

At 11 p.m. on Jan. 13, three men approached a man crossing the bridge and asked for money. When the man ran, the group chased after him, caught him, beat him and stole his money.

"We've also seen in November and December some increases in street robberies in the vicinity of the footbridge," Spiroff said. "We're there now, doing increased enforcement and stopping people who are suspicious."

He added, "Bottom line, we are not going to tolerate it."

Maryland State Police had installed a surveillance camera on the footbridge Dec. 15, 2010, said Sgt. Stewart Cumbo, a spokesman for the state police.

The installation was prompted by a spate of rock throwing from the area onto the vehicles on the parkway, "So when we do have calls for rock throwing and even assaults, we can go review it," Cumbo said.

The camera, Cumbo said, led to the arrests of two juveniles who threw rocks from the bridge in fall 2011.

Police installed the surveillance camera only months after a triple shooting in the area..

Sgt. Robert Harpster from the Wilkens Station recalled the incident on Halloween 2010 in which three teenagers were shot on the 100 block of Twin Circle Way on the Baltimore Highlands side of the footbridge.

Dequan Burks, 16, of Lansdowne, died. Trekwan Woodward, 15, of Baltimore, and Imean Abdulah Shaheed, 19, of Brooklyn, were injured.

Cumbo said the camera was taken down in October of 2011. He said he didn't know why the unit took the camera down.

A Lansdowne resident for 15 years, William Heitzer has lived on Freeway Road for the past four years and has never used the footbridge.

"There's nowhere to drive, so it doesn't have that police presence and people know that, especially young kids," Heitzer said, referring to one of the entrances to the footbridge beside the CVS Pharmacy on Hollins Ferry Road.

Pete Kriscumas, an aide in 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk's office, has spoken with police about the problem and worked to remove the brush in that area.

"It's a camouflaged area that suspects could easily duck down into, and police could lose them," Kriscumas said.

On Feb. 6, Kriscumas sent an email to Baltimore County Department of Highways requesting the removal of the brush on the county side of the bridge, which is on the side of the path where the homes are, he said.

"The residents who live in those homes can see the pathway at the foot of the bridge," Kriscumas said, noting their surveillance would make the area more secure.

The brush on the other side of the path, Kriscumas said, is the responsibility of the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Harpster, a community outreach officer for Wilkens, said the police are paying extra attention to the area.

"(Officers) will check on it as much as they can," Harpster said about the footbridge. "Our biggest thing is just to maintain a presence out there. We have officers through all three shifts that check on that."

He said that he has not met with the community associations of Riverview or Baltimore Highlands to discuss the recent problems.

Even with improvements to the area, Spiroff recommends that people take precautions whether walking on the footbridge or in any other part of town.

"In today's age, we need to exercise crime prevention tactics ourselves," Spiroff said. "The advice we give throughout the community is to be very conscientious of where you are."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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