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Ron Whitehead, president of the Riverview Community Association, Baltimore County Chief of Police Melissa R. Hyatt, and County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. chat during a community walk in Lansdowne.
Ron Whitehead, president of the Riverview Community Association, Baltimore County Chief of Police Melissa R. Hyatt, and County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. chat during a community walk in Lansdowne. (Cody Boteler/Cody Boteler)

Ron Whitehead has lived in Riverview, a community in Lansdowne, since 1965. And he’s been president of the Riverview Community Association for at least 20 years.

“Nobody else wants to do it, so," Whitehead said.

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Because of his long-time investment in the community, and because he’s been in a leadership position with it for so long, he’s gone on plenty of “neighborhood walks” with government officials, pointed out problems and waited to see results. Normally, Whitehead said, it’s been a disappointment.

“Time will tell,” if things go differently this time, Whitehead said, but he cops to being cautiously optimistic because the walk this time was with so many department heads, and with the county executive himself. It’s the first time that’s happened, Whitehead said.

Whitehead was one of dozens of neighborhood residents who joined County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Police Chief Melissa Hyatt and other government leaders – including the director of public works, armed with a trash bag and trash-grabber – on a walk around communities in Lansdowne.

The community walk took place the same day that The Baltimore Sun reported that homicides in Baltimore County are up 52% compared to last year. In the Wilkens police precinct, which covers Catonsville, Arbutus and Lansdowne, there were two homicides reported in the first half of 2019, compared to just one reported in the first half of 2018, according to crime data released by the county.

Isabel Villalobos De Vasquez, left, pictured with a relative, was shot to death in May 2019 in Lansdowne. (Courtesy of Heriberto Interiano)
Isabel Villalobos De Vasquez, left, pictured with a relative, was shot to death in May 2019 in Lansdowne. (Courtesy of Heriberto Interiano) (BSMG)

Two brothers were charged in May in a shooting that occurred just blocks away from where the community walk started, behind a CVS on Hollins Ferry Road, that left a 78-year-old grandmother dead. The woman, Isabel Villalobos De Vasquez of Halethorpe, was a native of El Salvador. Police said she had nothing to do with an altercation that was happening at Lansdowne Shopping Center and was just “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The two men, Deandre Larenzo Buckson and Linwood Ronald Buckson Jr., remain held without bail in Baltimore County, according to online court records.

Hyatt said she always wants to look at factors that reduce crime, but that these community walks are “more than that” and have a broader focus.

“It gives us an opportunity. Instead of trying to figure out who is responsible for what, we’re all there, we can address it, and then we do a follow-up call to document things that we’ve identified…and make sure it eventually gets resolved,” Hyatt said.

Several times throughout the nearly two-hour community walk, a department head would make a note of some illegal dumping, or a street light with no wire, or a vacant home or a rash of graffiti.

The issue was being documented, like Hyatt alluded to, so that it could be followed up on. Baltimore County government staff said throughout the evening they’d be having a call or a meeting in the near future to determine which department is most responsible for which issues, and then figuring out how to fix those problems.

Olszewski, toward the end of the walk, said he saw some “healthy skepticism” from residents as he walked through the neighborhoods. But the executive said he wants to improve the neighborhood, and wants to help the residents feel great about where they call home.

He said he’d love to be able to do a follow up community walk through some neighborhoods in a few months, to see how – or if – the fixes have been implemented.

“Hold us accountable,” Olszewski told an assembled crowd as the walk ended.

Another community walk is scheduled for the Parkville area later in the month. An exact time has not been scheduled.

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