The break-ins of several cars belonging to Washington Nationals players could well be the work of an organized auto-theft ring, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said yesterday
"It seems like professionals," said Ramsey, whose city-issued Ford Crown Victoria was stolen last week from near his home and has not been found. "These are guys who knew what they were doing."
Ramsey, reached by phone yesterday, said he went to the stadium yesterday to suggest security improvements at the players' parking lot, including better lighting and fencing, more surveillance cameras and a designated spot where players' cars could be cordoned off during out-of-town games. The break-ins and the theft of one car from a lot at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium took place while the team was on a road trip.
"I wanted to physically look at [the lot] myself to see if there were some things we could suggest," said Ramsey, after he met with Mark H. Tuohey, chairman of D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.
Tony Robinson, the commission's communications director, said: "We're evaluating who was on duty and who should have been monitoring the cameras."
The team returned from a 10-day road trip Wednesday night and discovered that several vehicles had been broken into and the Cadillac Escalade belonging to outfielder Marlon Byrd stolen.
Police are reviewing a security videotape that showed four men entering the lots in a truck Monday and breaking into 11 vehicles, police said. The men worked quickly, breaking locks and rifling through the cars in minutes. Byrd's vehicle was stolen two days later, police said. A dozen vehicles in two lots -- owned by officials, players and coaches -- were damaged.
The thefts are the first bad publicity that team officials have faced since Opening Day. And they continued to infuriate the players yesterday. Several said they would not park in the lot again.
Tuohey said: "We brought the team here, they've been so great for the community -- and they deserve to have security when they park their cars. We have a pretty good security system, obviously not good enough, and we are going to make sure this does not happen again."
Stadium security is provided by a contractor during home games, but in-house guards do not patrol around-the-clock on days when the team is away, Robinson said. The gate is generally kept open to give access to contractors and vendors, who also park in the lot.
Among other measures to increase security, stadium officials will install a gate that can be accessed only by an electronic card, Robinson said. That "should provide a different level of comfort to the team," he said.
"Everybody's mad about this," said third baseman Vinny Castilla as he stretched before last night's game against the Toronto Blue Jays. "This is not supposed to happen at a major league stadium."
Castilla said he would ask his wife to drop him off at the stadium before road trips from now on.
Nationals President Tony Tavares called the security "kind of basic. . . . It's not unreasonable that if you park your car somewhere, it should be there when you come back. I just don't want anything to be on their minds other than baseball at this point."
Another third baseman, Tony Blanco, said the security staff "should be fired." A police cruiser patrolled the lot yesterday, and two security guards stood by. A few dozen cars were parked, ringed by a 10-foot chain-link fence.
Despite the problem at RFK and the high-profile theft of Ramsey's vehicle, auto thefts have plummeted in the District this year. Police recorded 2,759 thefts through mid-June, down 29 percent from the 3,880 tallied during the same period last year.
Staff writer Eric Prisbell contributed to this report.