Rape, robbery put quiet Guilford on edge, spur petitions to City Hall Residents demand more police patrols


A well-known lawyer is stopped by Baltimore police in daylight as he talks on his car phone, three doors from his home in quiet, wealthy Guilford. A woman tells of a neighbor who spent the night in a hotel when her husband was out of town, fearful following a robbery and rape that occurred in the community.

Life in this 80-year-old North Baltimore enclave of stately homes has not been the same since the three masked gunmen tied up a Guilford couple on Sept. 7, robbed them of $50,000 in cash and jewelry and raped the wife.

Nerves are frazzled and the neighborhood is jumpy. So jumpy that residents recently called 911 to report the mere presence of a strange car, which turned out to belong to a law-abiding visitor.

Although private security guards already augment city police coverage in Guilford, the recent crime has residents afraid the robbers will strike again in this community where the average house sold for $280,000 this year.

And they're angry that the high property taxes they pay don't finance what they consider suitable police protection.

"Our neighborhood represents leading lawyers, doctors, businessmen. It's a very collegial place to raise our children. When something this heinous happens, it demands a response, and the mayor owes it to the citizens to provide us with a safe place to live," said Timothy D. A. Chriss, president of the Guilford Association, who has lived in the community most of his life.

Another resident, who did not want her name used because the crime has left her afraid to be quoted, said, "I'm angry with the mayor. His priorities are very mixed up." She noted that while the police department is understaffed, new trees were planted recently outside Memorial Stadium, the former home of the Orioles.

"I'd rather see money spent on public security than on trees," she said. "We pay a lot of taxes and contribute as much as any other city neighborhood, if not more. The concept of having police protection is a reasonable request," said the woman, who said she pays $10,000 annually in property taxes.

In a neighborhood better known for its fine architecture and brilliant tulips than its political activism, the residents have started a letter-writing campaign to Mr. Schmoke, asking him to increase the city's police patrols and to give the community a say in selecting a new police commissioner.

They also plan to begin a court-watch program to monitor the prosecution and conviction rate of people who commit crimes in Guilford.

"The mayor's got to start paying attention to this city," said Stuart M. Brooks, another Guilford resident who helped the community hire the private security firm last year.

Mobilizing community

"This is the first time in a long time we've had a violent crime. It's mobilized the community," he said.

Since the robbery and rape, he said, 50 people have shown interest in joining their neighbors in paying for the private security patrols that cruise the community. Guilford already has 120 families that pay $10 a week for the service.

Residents also were urged to write to the mayor and were sent a sample letter that they could simply sign and mail to City Hall.

The letter asks Mr. Schmoke to fill vacancies in the police department's Northern District, which covers Guilford, and seeks input in the selection of a replacement for Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods. Mr. Woods is retiring Nov. 1.

The letter emphasizes that Guilford's 675 households "pay nearly $6 million in property taxes. We are vital to the city's property tax base, and we would like to receive an appropriate response to our concerns as soon as possible."

Mayor Schmoke said he understands the worries of Guilford residents and plans to meet with them to discuss their concerns.

"I completely understand the feelings because this is a community not touched by the kind of violent crime that has plagued other areas of the city," the mayor said through a spokesman.

While residents say the mayor should do more to ensure citizen safety, they also praise the police department for assigning additional patrols to Guilford in response to the robbery and rape.

Capt. Michael Bass of the Northern District said that the police cruiser previously assigned to Guilford for 24-hour-a-day coverage no longer will be called away on emergency calls, except under unusual circumstances.

The department also has added a police officer on one shift a day to drive or walk through the community. In addition, he said, when the district has an extra officer on duty, he or she will be assigned to Guilford.

He said the police department is making the same increase in police coverage in Roland Park, where a similar robbery took place Aug. 6.

Captain Bass said the Northern District is understaffed by nearly 30 officers, but relatively few of the vacancies are among officers who patrol the streets.

"People in Guilford should have no concern, because services have not diminished," he said.

Last fall, after numerous thefts in the neighborhood, residents hired Centurion Security Services, run by retired Baltimore County police officer Wayne Cosgrove.

A security guard cruises the neighborhood in a car marked with a Guilford Security decal. The guard takes license numbers of strange cars, calls police when he sees anything suspicious and carries a telephone so neighbors can call with problems.

The guard also meets residents coming home at night who want protection entering their homes.

Greater vigilance

Mr. Cosgrove said that since the crime, community residents have been much more vigilant about calling the security guard, as well as police, when they see anything suspicious.

One longtime resident, who also asked that her name not be used because she is afraid, said, "There is a fairly high level of anxiety. We keep the doors locked all the time. You meet neighbors on the street, and they say the world is falling apart.

"One friend went to a hotel for the night when her husband was out of town. Another spent the night at a friend's house when her husband was away because she was scared." The woman declined to put a reporter in touch with the neighbor, citing the community's jittery nerves.

Many worry that neighbors will want to leave the city because of the robbery and rape.

But while the recent crime has frightened Guilford residents, one longtime community leader sees a positive reaction.

"I have sensed a closer community out of all this," said George Nilson, former president of the Guilford Association.

He noted that 100 residents came to a meeting the night after the robbery and rape, wanting to know what they could do to make the neighborhood safe. More than $5,000 was raised that night for a reward.

"The community is behaving more like a community. Sometimes it takes an unhappy incident to bring a community together," he said.

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