Winnipeg dad, business owner call for change after delayed police response to robberies

Robbery victims say they want to see changes in how Winnipeg police are dispatched after facing longer than expected wait times for help to arrive over the weekend.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci said he came face-to-face with the issue after his 14-year-old son Micah and a friend were robbed by a group of teens who threatened them with a hammer in Wolseley Saturday evening.

Jamie said the thieves took his son’s bike and backpack and ripped the chain he was wearing off his neck before someone in the neighbourhood opened their door to let the pair inside to safety.

What made an upsetting situation even worse was when the boys’ parents arrived and realized police still weren’t there after 911 was called. So Jamie called again — and was dismayed by the response he got.

“The dispatcher basically said to me, ‘Sir, hundreds of people want the police right now. They can’t possibly come to every call,'” he said.

Jamie said police finally showed up at his house around 1 a.m. wanting to take a statement, but his son was asleep. They ended up returning Sunday evening instead.

Winnipeg Police Service spokesperson Const. Claude Chancy said 911 calls are dispatched by urgency.

The dispatcher in this case made sure the teens were safe before sending officers to another incident happening at the same time where a person’s life was in danger, Chancy said in an email.

‘Unbelievable’ fireworks store robbery

Store owner Matt Bialek said he had a similar experience Friday afternoon, when he called police about a robbery in progress.

Bialek, who co-owns Red Bomb Fireworks with his wife, said he was working off site when he got a notification from his security system about an incident happening at their Winnipeg store.

He was able to tap into the video feed remotely and watch live as a man who had walked into the store lunged toward the manager working alone at the site.

The employee followed protocol, pressing a panic button to activate the alarm and escaping to a secure back room.

A man in a black T-shirt stands holding his hands together inside a room lined with fireworks.
Matt Bialek says it took police 40 minutes to arrive at his fireworks store after it was robbed on Friday. Police say it took them 22 minutes to get there. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The alarm system contacted police and Bialek called 911 himself as well, though he said he initially had to convince the dispatcher the call was real since it wasn’t coming from the store. 

But it would be another 40 minutes before police showed up, Bialek said, so he watched as the thief rummaged through the store’s tills, took about $100 in cash and walked out.

“Unreal. Unbelievable. The fact that this individual came onsite [and] he actually taunted our retail manager, asking if they thought the police would come,” he said. 

“Part of me … is led to believe that they knew the response time would not be sufficient, and that they could have free rein on our store.”

Bialek said since he sells fireworks, his store has a high level of security procedures that came in handy to make sure no one was injured and police were called quickly. But all that still wasn’t enough to catch the person who robbed the store.

Winnipeg police spokesperson Ally Siatecki said it actually only took 22 minutes from the time officers were called to the time they got to the store. 

Once the call came in, police made efforts to quickly find available units, and the information about the incident was broadcast to units already in the area, Siatecki said in an email.

‘Real change’ needed

Fourteen-year-old Micah said being threatened with a hammer left him “pretty scared” while just out throwing a football around with his friend — something he does in the area regularly. 

While his bag was eventually found after the thieves apparently dropped it, he’s still without his bike and chain — and he said from now on he’ll make sure when he goes out it’s with a bigger group.

Jamie said the incident left him wanting to see change in the way policing is handled in Winnipeg.

“I’m hoping the upcoming election provides an opportunity for some real change because innocent people are continually being victimized in this way after the fact of a crime,” he said.

Bialek echoed that sentiment.

“To have the incident that we just had — 40 minutes between that 911 call and police arrival — it has totally rocked my belief in the safety or the security of people in the city of Winnipeg,” he said, adding that he hopes police take it as a learning opportunity.

“The fact that I can’t go back to my staff and say, ‘This is the resolution to the matter we just experienced,’ that really burns,” he said.

“When the weakest link is outside of your purview … there’s no solution that I can offer my staff to give them that peace of mind.”