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Police see reduced crime at I-295 footbridge, promise continued vigilance

Numerous residents along Freeway were willing to talk about the nearby footbridge that spans Interstate 295 and connects Baltimore Highlands and Riverview.

But nine of the 10 residents on the road in Lansdowne chose to remain anonymous when talking about the pedestrian walkway that has often been a setting for crime.

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"We see the police back there more often, but it doesn't stop nothing," said one resident of the 3100 block of Freeway, who did not want to be identified.

The resident, who said they had lived on the street for the past 13 years, added that two months ago burglars stole $5,000 worth of lawn equipment from a shed in the backyard.

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Built during the 1950s, the footbridge serves as a pedestrian route over I-295 from the residences near Freeway, on the Riverview side of the highway, to Twin Circle Way on the Baltimore Highlands side.

But many residents said that it also provides an easy getaway route for criminals because of its inaccessibility for police patrol cars.

"If they shut that down, it would stop a lot (of crime) over here," the anonymous resident said of the footbridge.

Capt. John Spiroff, commander of Wilkens Police Station, which includes the Lansdowne area, said patrols with both uniformed and plain-clothes officers have increased in the area since January, when two violent robberies occurred on the footbridge within an eight-day span.

Around the same time, Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the 1st District, which includes Lansdowne, worked with the Maryland State Highway Administration to clear the brush near the footbridge.

Quirk said on Aug. 16 that clearing the brush resulted in fewer places "for the bad guys to hide or do drugs or sell drugs."

Since Jan. 21, there have been reports of several disturbances, such as people throwing rocks off the footbridge or setting off fireworks, but less violent crime, said Baltimore County police spokeswoman Cpl. Cathy Batton.

There have been two reported assaults and another assault that included a robbery, Batton said.

The most recent incident occurred just before 11:30 a.m. on July 28 when three juvenile boys approached a 45-year-old man on the footbridge and asked him for $1, police said.

After the man said no, one of the boys reached into the man's pocket, stole $120, punched him in the face and fled with the other two boys, police said.

Police have arrested three boys in connection with the crime and charged each with robbery, Batton said.

There was a report of an assault on June 4 in a residence in nearby Twin Circle Way for which police reported the person responsible fled toward the footbridge, Batton said.

On May 16, a group assaulted a woman near the footbridge, Batton said.

Seeing improvements

But considering the warmer weather and time during which more people are outside, Spiroff said he is encouraged by the recent results.

"I see the different strategies we've done are paying off," he said. "I'm very happy with that, but that is still an area where we have to maintain a strong police presence."

In addition to increased patrols, police responding to incidents in the area will also check the footbridge, Spiroff said.

"We were reacting to the problems that the footbridge was causing," Spiroff said of how his station responded to incidents prior to January's change of strategy. "Now we're proactive and I'm pleased with the results so far.

"That doesn't mean we can stop," he said. "One crime is too many."

Quirk agreed.

"I definitely feel that there's some positive progress being made," he said. "But we definitely have more work to do. There's no doubt about it.

"There's more challenges over there and we're working together (with police and area residents) to see what we can do to help," Quirk said.

Given recent improvements, many residents of Freeway are hopeful.

A woman who has lived on the 3000 block of Freeway for two years said she has noticed less crime recently.

"There's still a lot of activity. It's just not as vocal as it used to be," she said. "It's not been as bad this summer.

"I kind of wish (the footbridge) didn't exist, especially since I live up against it," she said.

One block away, a man who identified himself only as "George" said he does feel safer.

"There's a lot more cops, which there needs to be," he said. "They do a good job."

William Bichell has lived across from the residences that back up to the footbridge for 22 years and only rarely does crime cross Freeway, he said.

"As far as crime, it's just about the same," he said comparing it with the beginning of the year. "But I don't know if it's coming from the footbridge."

Reducing crime is not just due to the actions of the police and Quirk, Spiroff said.

The veteran police commander credited the members of the surrounding communities for being vigilant and calling the police whenever they notice something suspicious.

"I'm very pleased with what the citizens are doing because if they see anything they call us," Spiroff said.

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