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Man Arrested for April Crime Spree in Alexandria While Police Presence Reduced by Teleworking

A 34-year-old Fairfax County man has been arrested and charged with statutory burglary after an April crime spree in Alexandria.

Alton Thodos, 34, who lives in the Alexandria part of Fairfax County, was arrested on April 27, for committing four burglaries from gas stations in Del Ray and Old Town at night. He is accused of stealing more than $45,000 worth of items.

The incidents occurred during a period that Alexandria Police shifted staff around and sent a large portion of officers assigned to patrol the streets home to telework.

On Friday, April 10, at around 9:30 p.m., Thodos was allegedy captured on security video breaking into Greg’s Automotive at 3507 Mount Vernon Avenue.

“Alton Thodos is captured on security video, arriving at the scene of the crime, in the same vehicle as two unknown accomplices,” notes a police search warrant affidavit. “He can be seen using a cellular telephone as a light source, to locate a tool from the trunk of his vehicle, to facilitate the burglary. He used that tool to shatter a garage door window to enter the business. He is further observed coordinating with two unknown accomplices to steal two vehicles from the premises.”

Hours later, at around 2:50 a.m. on Saturday, April 11, Thodos allegedly burgled the Shell Service Center at 1600 Mount Vernon Avenue — approximately 1.2 miles away from the first incident.

“He is captured on security video arriving in a vehicle, with an unknown accomplice,” notes the affidavit. “He is further observed forcing entry to the business by means of shattering a garage door window. He removed cigarettes and other merchandise, valued in excess of $500.”

Another burglary occurred on Monday, April 13, at around 3:50 a.m., and Thodos is accused of breaking into the Exxon Service Center at 501 South Washington Street in Old Town by shattering a garage door window, and then stealing a car and $600 in merchandise. A week later, on April 20 at around 4:50 a.m., Thodos allegedly smashed the garage door window of the Old Town Exxon Service Center at 834 North Washington Street — approximately 1 mile away from the other Old Town location — and allegedly stole $120.

Police said that Thodos’ phone, which was allegedly used as a flashlight, identified him, in addition to the similarities of the incidents.

“A review of the security video revealed the visible glow, which is believed to be a cellular telephone, in his front left pocket,” notes the affidavit. “His identity was further confirmed by latent fingerprints, recovered from three of the four burglaries.”

Thodos has been arrested on numerous occasions, including after escaping a police barricade at the Virginia Lodge Motel in Belle Haven after a crime spree in 2018. At the time, he was wanted for credit card fraud, credit card theft, grand larceny and violating his probation. A search for Thodos prior to his arrest even led to the brief closure of the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in D.C.

Teleworking And The Alexandria Police Department

Last month also saw a huge jump of more than 700 positive COVID-19 cases in Alexandria. On April 14, the department reported to ALXnow that since March 30 there had been a 42% reduction in service calls and a 91% decrease in traffic stops since the Governor announced his stay at home order. Police also temporarily suspended most traffic enforcement (except egregious driving violations endangering public safety).

“In order to limit unnecessary exposure of officers and the public to COVID-19, the Department has modified its response to certain lower priority calls for service,” Alexandria Police spokesman Lt. Courtney Ballantine told ALXnow last month. “This direction, which provides a procedure for ensuring appropriate response to calls for service, shall remain in place until rescinded by the chief of police.”

Between April 6 and May 2, the Alexandria Police Department reduced its enlarged patrol presence (school resource officers, K-9 officers, traffic safety section officers and community relations officers) and on any given day had one-third of assigned patrol officers off the street and teleworking at home. The city, which says APD maintained minimum staffing levels, ended the teleworking practice after four weeks, and said it was an “innovative” solution to “help protect employees and customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

A man was also shot in Old Town on April 13, and there were multiple calls for shots fired.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that he wants all Alexandria Police officers assigned to patrol the streets to do so. No other first responding departments in the city had employees teleworking, including the Fire Department, Sheriff’s Office and Animal Services.

“Over the past few years we have made new investments in public safety personnel in police and fire,” Wilson said. “We certainly want to make sure that we have all of our required personnel on the streets serving the public, while ensuring the safety of all of our personnel.”

On April 27, Alexandria Police Chief Mike Brown wrote an email to Deputy City Manager Debra Collins and said that limiting exposure to patrol personnel during the pandemic is a “regional and even national practice.”

“This is usually in response to declines in call for service during the pandemic and with state stay at home orders,” Brown wrote. “We combined almost of our field operations staffing into one patrol schedule to enable us to put a third of the field operations staff on telework each week in a rotating assignment.”

Brown wrote that teleworking officers were given specific tasks, including following up on e-filed cases, completing mandatory training requirements and “other administrative activities important” for the Field Operations Bureau.

Wilson said that he started asking questions regarding teleworking when an individual with the Sheriff’s office began making inquiries, and that he notified his fellow council members that the practice was halted.

“I notified my colleagues of the inquiries that had been raised by an individual in the Sheriff’s Department and I later notified them when I learned the policy was changed,” Wilson said.

The decision to move patrol officers off the street was made by Brown and Deputy Chief Don Hayes, and was sanctioned by City Manager Mark Jinks.

“In order for this schedule to work effectively and give the officers some well-deserved relief, all FOB (Field Operations Bureau) staff assigned to our specialty units will be temporarily assigned to a patrol shift,” Hays wrote in an interdepartmental email on March 31. “This modified schedule will decrease the amount of time patrol officers will be responding to CFS (calls for service) and give them an option of supplementing their schedule through teleworking.”

In a deleted Facebook post, an APD officer was photographed teleworking at home by his significant other, and the following message was posted along with his picture on April 16: “Police officers can work from home, but I can’t. But he sure is handsome AND I don’t have to worry about him, so I guess it’s not SO bad.”

ALXnow was contacted by three separate local police union presidents on why teleworking was effective in Alexandria.

“It’s unfortunate that one person posted that picture (on Facebook), but respectfully took it off,” APD Lieutenant Marcus Downey,  the president of the International Union of Police Associations Chapter 5005, told ALXnow. “We can’t take a single picture that represents the majority of our people. We have 120 people just on patrol alone and that didn’t include the (motorcycle officers), the SROs that were moved there, so we’re looking at closer to 140 people. So, one goofball posts such a picture. It’s unfortunate. That doesn’t speak to the majority of our staff and the work that they did during teleworking.”

Downey added, “I think it was handled appropriately. We were able to provide the same level of service while keeping the community safe, as well as our officer safe.”

City spokesman Craig Fifer said that the teleworking initiative was a success and that it resulted in minimally fewer officers off the street.

“The telework initiative was not a failure of any kind,” Fifer said. “The initiative was a success because it accomplished its goals of protecting officers’ physical and mental health, preserving PPE, improving patrol efficiency, and keeping more officers available in the event of a spike in the virus.”

Officer Michael Rodriguez, the president of the International Union of Police Representatives Local 5, represents 198 members, and told ALXnow that he supports the teleworking decision. He also said there was no PPE shortage in the department when the teleworking initiative was implemented.

“I am supportive and my members are supportive (of the teleworking initiative),” Rodriguez said.

Fifer also said that patrol staffing is based on calls for service, not crimes. He acknowledged that crime was higher in April 2020 versus last year, but said that month-by-month crime was down 13% in April from the previous month. There was, however, an increased number of car thefts, in addition to a person who was raped, 134 larcenies and 15 aggravated assaults.

“Comparing the first quarter of 2020 (January through March) with April, what we found is that there were an average of 1.8 fewer officers on daylight patrol, 3.4 fewer on evenings, and 0.5 on midnights,” Fifer said. “In terms of geography, that means each of the three patrol sectors was down between 0 and 1 officers on average per shift. To be clear, these are the numbers of officers actually driving around on routine patrol at any given time. There is no reasonable connection between a difference of 0-1 officers and a change in crime.”

But a source familiar with the situation said that Fifer’s analysis is flawed.

“He is calculating this by looking at minimum staffing numbers, and that statement is malarkey,” the source said. “By placing specialized units in patrol and allowing a third of that force to telework at home equates to 18-24 officers off the street, period. There’s no other way you can slice it.”

On any given day, three patrol squads (out of nine squads normally working 11 hour daily shifts) stayed home and rotated turns working two weeks on, followed by a week of teleworking at home. Each patrol squad consisted of six-to-eight officers, meaning there were between 18-24 patrol officers off the street every day teleworking.

“There is no meaningful way to look at crime statistics that suggests that crime was materially higher during the telework initiative,” Fifer said. “It’s also important to keep in mind that patrol staffing is based on calls for service (which were down 42%), not on crimes.”

But a number of individuals with direct knowledge of the situation, and who have chosen to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, have told ALXnow that sending APD patrol officers home to telework was a hasty decision.

“While the city was challenged, it was well known in the law enforcement community that this was happening at a time that crime was increasing, with the approval of the city manager,” one source said. “I find it interesting that the practice ceased after news started breaking by ALXnow and the mayor started making inquiries.”

Another source told ALXnow that police did reduce their presence in the city.

“We were at minimum staffing, because people were moved out of centralized units and were put in patrol, which put our staffing right to minimum or below, depending if somebody called out or had vacation scheduled,” the source said. “To say that staffing wasn’t affected, that’s not true, and the teleworking was easy. We might’ve handled a handful of small service calls every day.”

On April 24, Sergeant Stephen Mackey of the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office complained to Jinks about police teleworking, and said that in an email that police received unfair benefits not enjoyed by his and other departments. Additionally, staff were paid full-time salaries to stay home, he said.

“Sheriff Lawhorne has required all sworn staff regardless of their assignment to report to duty during these difficult times,” wrote Mackey, who is also president of the Alexandria Sheriff’s Association. “Our staff is under the same pressure and risks during these demanding times. We have pulled together and reported to work. I believe that our sworn staff is entitled to receive compensation equal to what our APD partners have already received.”

Mackey added, “This is not about the character of the men and women of the Alexandria Police Department. We do not question their commitment to duty nor do we begrudge them for receiving this benefit. It’s about a decision to allow a certain section of your public safety team to receive a benefit that was not extended to your other first responders. This is about being included and not excluded.”

Sheriff Dana Lawhorne said he was proud of his staff for reporting to work.

“All sworn staff reported to work each and every day,” Lawhorne told ALXnow. “They recognize and understand the importance of being here during difficult times. Not only did they do their jobs but they pitched in and assisted other city departments. I’m proud of them.”

Former APD Deputy Chief Blaine Corle told ALXnow that the city manager should revisit the decision behind the teleworking plan. Corle, a 32-year APD veteran who retired in 2014 as a deputy chief under former Police Chief Earl Cook, said that the decision put the community at risk during an emergency.

“It was a bad way to respond to this community crisis,” said Corle, who has never met Brown. “This is absolutely ludicrous. Let’s go to the police department’s goals and objectives, which are on the department’s web and Facebook pages. Protect life and property in the city is goal number one. Only an idiot would think that you could do that from a telework position. And just as important as actually keeping the public safe is enhancing the public trust, and the public feeling of safety, which is goal number two in the police department.”

Corle added, “If I was sitting in a room where this decision was being made, I would have jumped out of my chair and started pounding on the table to say that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. How can you expect to protect life and property or enhance the public trust if you’re doing it while you’re sitting in your apartment in Woodbridge, or Maryland or wherever you may live which is where a lot of our young officers live outside of the community… If I’m the city manager and I’m looking at my chief of police, and he makes a decision in a time of crisis that clearly puts the community at risk and puts his agency at risk, it’s time for me to seriously look at whether I want to keep that person in that position.”

Investigator Diana Barrett, president of the Virginia chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, said that the department functioned well through the crisis, and that calls for service were reduced.

“There really haven’t been that many calls for service,” Barrett said. “I’ve personally not seen any issues with it (teleworking).”

Alexandria City Councilwoman Amy Jackson said she believes the city’s law enforcement is doing what it can to protect the city, and that their presence is needed.

“I believe they need to be seen and present in the community – protected but on patrol, especially now, to give the added sense of security and enforce calm and reassurance for our citizens,” Jackson said.

File photo

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