Less than a month after Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele began appearing in state-funded advertisements offering tips about thwarting car thefts, a thief smashed the window of his 2005 Chevrolet Suburban and grabbed four cell phones from inside.
State troopers had parked the state-owned SUV in front of the lieutenant governor's Largo townhouse Sunday afternoon. The break-in occurred before 7 a.m. Monday, when troopers assigned to protect Steele (R) discovered the shattered front passenger window, police said.
Maryland State Police would not release copies of the report filed in the matter, but a department spokesman said there was "some minor vandalism" inside the car. There was no evidence the perpetrator was intentionally targeting Steele, communications director Greg Shipley said.
Shipley said troopers were working with Prince George's County police to investigate the incident, which was one of several break-ins in Steele's neighborhood -- a townhouse community that overlooks a large oval parking lot. There was no evidence that the thief tried to take the car itself, he said.
By comparison with other public officials, Steele may have gotten off easy. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey's cruiser was stolen in June. A van belonging to Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D) was stolen from in front of his house in 2002.
"Crime is indiscriminate," said Barbara Hamm, spokeswoman for Prince George's police. "It goes across the board, and it doesn't matter if you're the lieutenant governor or Joe Citizen."
Hamm said it is well known that vehicle theft has been a significant problem in the county lately. Last year, about 18,500 cars were stolen in Prince George's, more than in the rest of the state combined and more than in all of Virginia. This year, car thefts have decreased by 9 percent, compared with this time last year.
The issue has been of particular interest to Steele, who said his office studied the problem and decided to tape a public service announcement to highlight it. In the ad, paid for by state police, Steele offers such tips as "Always lock your car and take your key" and "Use anti-theft devices."
When the announcements began airing last month, Democrats cried foul, saying the spots had the earmarks of a taxpayer-funded attempt to increase Steele's exposure, just as he was exploring a bid for U.S. Senate.
Yesterday, Steele's press secretary said the break-in offers proof, if more was needed, that the lieutenant governor was acting in the public's best interest. "We're not going to let any political noise silence us on this issue," said Reagan Hopper, Steele's spokeswoman. "In fact, we're going to step up our efforts to get the word out."