Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Why police didn't bust bike thieves

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Everyone can relax now.

Well, maybe not everyone.

Winnipeg police want you to know they are hot on the trail of what appears to be a ring of bike thieves.

Although they didn't appreciate my writing about the case Tuesday, the suggestion being that by alerting the thieves, I've made finding them more difficult.

More difficult?

Let's just do a little backtracking here. Back to around noon last Saturday when four locked bikes were stolen from under an apartment fire escape in Fort Rouge. As it turns out, there are a lot more than four bikes involved in this investigation.

And a lot more at stake for police.

That's because of what happened after the four bikes were stolen and what a couple of patrol officers did -- and didn't do -- about it.

What they did was respond promptly later that Saturday afternoon to the apartment of Rejean Robert and Brenda Harder, who were without their two bikes.

Police responded because a witness had reported what he'd seen.

The witness, a 32-year-old neighbour, not only saw what happened, he took photographs of the thieves in action and then followed two members of what appears to be a stolen-bike ring and chop-shop operation.

The witness not only tracked the thieves to a walk-up apartment on Corydon Avenue near Confusion Corner, he recovered one of the four bikes and prevented another bike from being stolen by interrupting the theft in progress.

Pretty impressive.

But it was tracking them to the apartment that would turn out to be the big score. Because, the next day, using a lead provided by his good neighbour the witness, Robert went to the apartment block and recovered his fiancée's bike.

By that time, his bike -- the one he used to get to work -- was long gone.

It was the block's caretaker who first led Robert to a basement locker full of bikes and bike parts and then took him upstairs where the caretaker knocked on a door behind which were more bikes and bike parts.

Why would Robert put himself at risk like that?

Because of what the two patrol officers didn't do after they responded to his home to take a report on Saturday.

The officers didn't go to the apartment block on Corydon where the witness saw the thieves take their stolen bikes, one worth $700 and the other about $600.

It was the patrol officer not following the lead to the apartment block on Corydon that outraged Robert and prompted him to contact the Free Press.

"I told them I had the address," Robert recalled Wednesday when we spoke again.

"And what they told me was they can't go knocking on doors."

No?

That's also what Winnipeg Police Service public information officer Const. Jason Michalyshen suggested to me when we spoke earlier this week, although he put it slightly differently.

He said police can't go kicking in doors, at least not without a search warrant.

"There's a process we have to follow."

He said he understands the victim's frustration, but sometimes police can't act as quickly as they'd like to.

"We can't snap our fingers," is how Michalyshen put it.

All true, but not totally true.

When I spoke to a former senior Winnipeg police officer, he said if the patrol officers had driven the six blocks from the scene of the theft to the Corydon apartment, they could have secured the scene and sought a search warrant.

So, why didn't they go?

Michalyshen said he didn't know.

I asked him something else.

According to Robert, the caretaker said he had reported suspicious activity at the apartment to police more than once, prior to last weekend.

But police hadn't responded.

I asked Michalyshen if he could verify that.

He said he couldn't.

What he could tell me, though, was that prior to last weekend, police in District 6 had been aware there had been a rash of stolen bikes in the Fort Rouge area.

And beyond.

Last month, Gord's Ski & Bike on Donald Street had been hit by professional thieves three times for a total of eight bikes, including a couple worth $8,000 each.

And by Tuesday, when the column appeared, Robert quickly learned he wasn't alone because of Facebook messages from others in the neighbourhood who'd had bikes stolen.

Were the two patrol officers aware there had been a rash of stolen bikes in the area?

Michalyshen said he didn't know.

What the WPS spokesman could tell me about how police handled the case was this:

The officers in charge of the patrol officers who took Robert's report on Saturday are "very pleased" with the thoroughness of their work.

And, police made no mistakes.

But then, when do they ever? Or at least, ever admit they did?

But we should give the last words to the victim. Words that cut through all the police we-don't-knows, to what Rejean Robert knows:

"We had a witness, pictures, an address... what more do they need to help protect the property of citizens?"

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

STOLEN BIKES BY THE NUMBERS

3,000 -- estimated number of bikes reported stolen annually in Winnipeg.

1,500 -- estimated number of bikes recovered annually.

10-12 -- percentage of recovered bikes returned to owners in Winnipeg.

100,000 -- estimated number of stolen bikes reported stolen annually in Canada. 200,000 -- estimated total number of bikes stolen annually across Canada.

Sources: City of Winnipeg, TD Insurance

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2012 B1

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