Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Chop shop but no cop

Bike thieves' pictures and address seem insufficient for police

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What would you do?

I mean, what would you do if someone stole your $700 mountain bike -- and your fiancée's $600 model -- and you called police with the kind of lead you didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to follow.

But then you got the feeling police weren't interested in following it.

Well, I'll tell you what 33-year-old Rejean Robert did.

It was Saturday, just after the lunch hour, when Rejean's soon-to-be wife Brenda Harder saw the note posted on the front door of their Fort Rouge apartment block.

The note had been left by a neighbour who, about an hour earlier, had seen two thieves make off with four bikes that had been locked under an apartment fire escape.

The witness, who could be the poster boy for Neighbourhood Watch, contacted police and took photographs of the thieves pulling off one of the most common and frustrating Winnipeg crimes. Not only that, but he made like a cop and trailed them in his vehicle and watched as they hauled the bikes to a walk-up apartment on Corydon.

Minus one of the bikes, which he found stashed in the bush and returned to the owner.

But that's only part of the story.

While patrol officers responded that same afternoon, Rejean and Brenda were taken aback by what one of the officers told them.

"They said it was very unlikely they were going to recover our bikes," Rejean recalled Monday morning.

Police had a witness who had given them a statement. Plus photographs of the crime in progress. And the nearby address where the bikes had been taken.

But that didn't seem to be enough to track down their bikes the same day.

"That basically told me they weren't going to go and look," Rejean said. "I didn't know what to do at that point."

By late Sunday afternoon, a day later, he'd had enough of waiting for the police to do nothing.

So he and Brenda paid a visit to the apartment block on Corydon where their bikes had last been seen.

As luck would have it, the apartment caretaker was working outside.

Rejean told the caretaker why they were there and showed him the photos their neighbour had taken of the theft.

The caretaker recognized the people in the photographs right away.

Rejean said the caretaker told them there was what amounts to a bicycle chop shop being run out of the one of the apartments in the block he looks after, and he had reported it to police more than once.

But they didn't respond.

Rejean asked the caretaker if police had stopped by that weekend to investigate their complaint.

"He said they never came by."

Then the caretaker invited them into the block to see what he would have shown police if they had contacted him.

It was a basement storage locker packed with bikes and bike parts.

The caretaker asked Rejean if he wanted to see if their bikes were there.

Rejean said yes. Brenda said no.

"She was too scared to go up."

Rejean was nervous, too.

He didn't know if they had a gun or a knife, or what would happen.

But since the caretaker was with him, Rejean climbed the stairs.

There, propped up in the hall, Rejean spotted what he recognized right away as Brenda's bike.

The caretaker knocked on the door.

And when a young man opened the door, there were more bike parts and more bikes, but nothing that resembled his.

The young man in the apartment said he had paid $50 for it, so it was his.

By that time, hearing the dispute in progress, Brenda had joined them.

The guy in the apartment was demanding to see their purchase receipt for the bike he'd just bought. Rejean and Brenda said they wanted to see his.

And then Rejean and Brenda called his bluff.

They suggested they call police and the cops could resolve it.

At which point the dispute over the bike was resolved, because the guy with all the bikes and bike parts wanted nothing to do with police.

What he didn't know, though, is apparently the police didn't want anything to do with the guy in the apartment, either.

Police didn't return repeated requests for comment on Monday.

But late Monday afternoon, Rejean called to say he had just received a text from the neighbour who witnessed the crime in progress, took the photos and followed the thieves. He had been contacted by police, and a detective was coming to see him.

To take notes, no doubt.

Which is what I did when I finally reached the poster boy for Neighbourhood Watch Monday. And he said this:

"I did what I hope any neighbour would do."

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2012 B1

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