Last week, Chris Lawless dropped his car off at Tech Auto Maintenance in the Heights for a repair. He stopped by the next day to find it fixed but picked clean of loose change, hundreds of CDs and his limited-edition Public Enemy hat.
At first Lawless suspected the mechanics had stolen his stuff. But Bobby Harting, owner of Tech Auto Maintenance, wasn't surprised to hear what had happened. After 30 or so similar break-ins over the past four years, he knew immediately who did it.
The same anonymous guy has been starring in Tech Auto's surveillance videos ever since the protracted rash of burglaries began. The man, who Harting describes as a "skinny, light-skinned black or Hispanic," jumps the fence, busts open the windows of locked cars and scavenges for change and valuables.
Harting now goes through each car before leaving it overnight and removes computers, guns and iPods for safekeeping inside his office. He also no longer locks the cars. "If we lock the cars out here, he'll break windows out of the cars and find there's nothing in them. So we don't lock them and he just goes through and steals change," Harting said. "One time he took a shit in one of them."
The company has put up cameras, an electric fence and has even resorted to guard dogs. That didn't last long. "He beat the dog's head with a pipe," Harting said.
But even with a slew of evidence, including a full-length motion picture's worth of surveillance tapes, the thief's discarded crack pipe and fingerprints left on the cars, he hasn't been caught. Neither has the second man captured on tape who has since joined in the thieving fun.
Harting doesn't think police are even trying. "All they say is, 'Well, we'll keep an eye out,'" he said. "They do nothing."
Last month, Harting said the office was burgled by the same guy. "Once he got in there, the alarm went off for 22 minutes," Harting said. Police showed up just as Harting did, he said, 30 minutes later. The nearest police station is about a five-minute drive away. "I was like, 'Why are you just now showing up?' They said, 'Well, we were busy on response.'"
Harting blames what he calls police indifference on money. "Giving out tickets generates revenue," he said. "Catching a thief doesn't make them any money."
HPD Public Information Officer Victor Senties pulled up four pages of police calls to the address since 2007, ranging from burglary of a motor vehicle to reporting a suspicious person. "Every report that's taken is looked into, and everything is taken seriously," he said.
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Harting doesn't warn customers about the burglar since he comes so sporadically, he said. Break-ins can happen five times in a short span of time, and then disappear for months.
Meanwhile, theft victim Chris Lawless isn't happy. Harting offered to break even with him after the cost of repair, but Lawless wanted more than just being directed to a "We are not responsible for theft" sign.
"He's got a recurring problem," Lawless said. "He didn't give me any warning...and he didn't want to scare the customers. I understand that, but he needs to do more than he's doing."
Lawless added to HPD's collection of police reports for 37 Waugh -- not that he thinks it'll help. Instead, he's keeping an eye out for a guy wearing an über-rare Public Enemy hat. "I'm no Columbo, but that's the way I'm breaking the case," he said.