Robbery-prone Towson bank branch seen as victim of its location

As a security guard stood outside the front door Friday morning, a customer paused at the drive-through window of the Wells Fargo Bank branch at 989 Fairmount Ave., in Towson.

"Were you robbed last week?" she asked a teller.

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The customer, who identified herself only as Jane, then told a reporter she had read in the Towson Times about the robbery Jan. 29.

"It's sad," she said, but added that crime is widespread. "Unfortunately, you can't get away from it anywhere."

The Jan. 29 incident happened at 5:42 p.m., when two assailants robbed the branch at gunpoint and fled on foot. Detectives are working with the FBI to solve the case, a common protocol in bank robberies, said Capt. Jay Landsman of the Towson police precinct.

But that's not the only time the branch has been held up by robbers. The latest robbery is the third at the bank since November 2015 and the ninth since 2000, Landsman said.

"It has been hit a few times," he said. "They do have security there. But there are just locations that suspects tend to gravitate toward. They pick these establishments probably for the same reason the customers do."

Landsman said the branch on Fairmount is a prime target because it's located just off York Road, with quick access to the beltway and several nearby shopping centers in a commercial stretch of York Road. Robbers find it easy to get off Route 695 and hit the first bank they find going southbound, he said.

"Certain banks and establishments are just situated in a place where it's easy for individuals to get in and out," he said. "I don't think there's anything the bank did that's negligent."

Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, said the robberies point up the need to hire more patrol officers and "beef up the police force. Towson is growing. We need more officers," Marks said, noting that the Towson precinct includes officers "on loan" from other stations.

The bank's security guard and its branch manager would not comment, but Del Galloway, a spokesman for Wells Fargo branches in Maryland and Washington, said, "We take it seriously," adding that security manpower has been beefed up at the Fairmount location.

"We've increased security support," Galloway said. He also said Wells Fargo has put the branch's security officers and staff "on higher alert."

The good news, said Landsman, is that arrests have been made in connection with all but two of the nine robberies since 2000, including the arrest of Salvatore Saccheri, 45, of Catonsville, a suspect in a robbery Nov. 13 at the Wells Fargo branch. Saccheri has been charged with one count of armed robbery.

West Towson resident Mike Ertel, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said the organization also has called for more police officers, and that a lack of police presence is the top complaint he hears from Towson residents. But Ertel said he's not sure that more police presence would stop robberies from occurring at a location such as the Fairmount Avenue branch of Wells Fargo.

Pat France, a Knollwood-Donnybrook resident and vice president of Towson Area Citizens on Patrol, said she banks at the Wells Fargo branch and was pleased to see a security guard standing outside one morning last week.

"I discussed the crime rate with him and he said having a security guard standing outside would more than likely deter any criminals thinking about going inside and attempting a hold-up," France said. "I agreed and thanked him."

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But she questioned whether Wells Fargo was being consistent in stationing a guard there, because she didn't see a guard that afternoon or on a subsequent morning when she drove by.

For criminals as well as customers, "The location is easy, right at a bus stop," France said. "If Wells Fargo continues this practice of having an armed security guard outside, I think that will help tremendously."

Although Galloway characterized nine robberies since 2000 as "unusual", he said there are no plans to relocate the branch. "It is a good location, business-wise, and our customers certainly like the location," he said. "We're staying put."

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