Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stolen bikes not on police radar

Another opportunity lost to catch a bicycle thief in city

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Some questions have been raised this week as a result of something that happened to one of the thousands of people who have their bikes stolen each year in this city.

The questions are these:

How much does the Winnipeg Police Service really care about finding bike thieves? And how much does it really care about finding and returning your bike? The questions were raised -- to a level just shy of a scream -- after Rejean Robert, a 33-year-old Fort Rouge resident contacted the Free Press about the theft of two bikes last Saturday afternoon; a $700 mountain bike he rode to work and a $600 model belonging to his fiancée. Initially, the police response appeared positive. Within a few hours, two patrol officers took a statement from a witness.

Actually, the witness had done more than just watch, he took photos, and then followed the thieves for six blocks to a walk-up apartment block on Corydon Avenue near Confusion Corner, where he saw them take the bikes. Rejean thought, given that kind of lead, police would follow it. And fast.

But they didn't.

So the next day, Rejean and his fiancée, Brenda, decided to follow the lead themselves, right to that apartment block on Corydon.

With the help of the caretaker, they not only found Brenda's bike, but a large stash of other bikes and bike parts in a basement locker and second-floor apartment. All of which suggested they had stumbled on a stolen-bike ring that was operating a chop shop out of the building.

I wrote about all of this on Tuesday.

By Wednesday, police, who had assigned detectives to the case on Monday, had executed a search warrant at the apartment block.

By that time, the bikes were gone.

But police arrested one suspect there and another the next day downtown, both of whom were charged with possession of property obtained by crime under $5,000. They're still looking for a third suspect.

The arrests make police -- or at least these officers -- look better.

Except the police service had known for weeks that a bike ring was at work in the area, and according to what the caretaker told Rejean, they had been alerted more than once about the suspicious goings-on at the Corydon apartment.

But police hadn't responded.

What's even more disturbing is this doesn't appear to be an isolated case.

Ruth Smith owns a 16-suite apartment block on St. Mary's Road, and when she read about Rejean's experience, she sent me an email.

Late last month, Ruth said she discovered 12 bikes and assorted bike parts stashed under a basement stairwell in her building. So she took it upon herself to investigate, much like the witness did in last weekend's case.

"I proceeded to phone and talk directly to every tenant in the 16-suite block," Ruth wrote.

Fifteen of the tenants told her none of the bikes belonged to them. But when Tenant 16 didn't get back to her, Ruth decided to record all the bike serial numbers and call police.

But when she called police, they brushed her off.

"They said they wouldn't come to check as there was no proof of illegal activity."

There's more.

"When I offered to record the serial numbers, they said I could but someone could just say they found them. Basically, they said, never mind."

The next day, Tenant 16 was spotted removing the 12 bikes and bike parts from the basement. Later, he would tell Ruth he took the bikes to his brother's place. On hearing that, Ruth called police again, and again got the brush-off. He could be repairing friends' bikes or buying and selling bikes, police told her.

"And they had no reason to investigate."

We all know there are lot of good cops doing a lot of good work, and there's a never-ending load of work to do. I also know it's not uncommon for general-patrol officers to find bikes, run their serial numbers and then stuff them in their trunks and return them to their owners.

But then there's what appears to be institutional apathy about bike theft, as if it doesn't matter. Police don't even track stolen bikes as a separate theft category, leaving the city to estimate reported cases at 3,000 annually, which means there are probably another 3,000 stolen that go unreported. On a national scale, the number is more like 200,000, which amounts to losses in the tens of millions of dollars.

Of this much I can assure you: If it were a bank being robbed at that rate, police wouldn't be telling citizens such as Ruth Smith that their tip didn't matter. But we're not talking about banks, we're talking about bikes.

Big wheels, versus little ones.

And that's just the way the world goes around.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 16, 2012 B1

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