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Wheelers, dealers pump up bike theft

It's a nice place, this subdivision where I live. Nothing fancy, but attractive enough, and the people are friendly.

With its endless cul-de-sacs and diverse population, Plantation often strikes me as America in a microcosm.

And that's not always good.

These days the common demon is bicycle theft. As in other neighborhoods, bikes are being snatched from driveways, garages and the community playground.

They are being abandoned, destroyed and _ some say _ resold in a kind of kiddie underground market.

"Many times the bikes are just "taken' by kids that want a ride to another place in our community, and then the bike is discarded," says a notice in the homeowners' newsletter.

Residents, it goes on to say, are invited to register their bicycles for free at the clubhouse, making them easier to recover in case of a theft.

Register our bikes?

The idea is not all that radical, says Tom Jones, manager of the community association. A retired Army colonel, Jones got the idea at a military base.

He showed me dozens of reclaimed bikes in a shed near the swimming pool. Unable to establish ownership with any certainty, he will probably turn them over to the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office.

How widespread is bicycle theft?

The homeowners' bulletin, which lists calls to the resident-financed "courtesy patrol," reported two bikes stolen, five found and three returned in June. That's a fairly typical level of activity for the officers, but nowhere near the extent of the problem.

Just ask the kids along the bike paths that crisscross our park.

"I was in the pool when I heard that someone took my bike," says Aaron Jackson, 15. "He threw it in the back of a car. By the time I got there, he was gone." His parents bought him a new bike, he said, but "that one was stolen, too."

Tommy Parker, 14, says, "I let someone borrow my bike who I shouldn't have." The bike cost him $136, money he earned mowing lawns.

When Tommy confronted the youth later, "he said someone had stolen it from him." His mother got involved, he said, and recovered the bike from behind the boy's home.

Rumor has it that kids throughout these suburbs will offer to procure you a stolen bike for $5 or $10. Kenny Golomb, also a onetime bike theft victim, said someone at Lake Park offered to sell him a bike for $15.

You're probably asking yourself, is this kind of nonsense any different than when we were kids?

Some of Plantation's elders think it is.

Bike theft today is more widespread, they say. It's more thoughtless. It's more, well, malicious.

"We get 'em trashed, the wheels off and the handlebars bent," Jones says. "They throw them in the bushes. If we ever drained the lakes, we'd find a lot more."

While some will tell you the bikes are simply "borrowed" and others suggest the culprits are just bored, teens say the bikes and bike parts are being sold in pawn shops, sometimes for drug money.

In my day, I guess, nice middle-class kids worked for their drug money.

Like any juvenile crime, bike theft would not be so pervasive were it not for a shameful lack of parental supervision.

Tommy says that when his mother confronted the young man who had taken his bike, the father told her, "he comes home with a lot of different bikes all the time."

Jones, describing similar incidents, just shakes his head.

"I would think a parent would find it strange that a kid would bring home a strange bike, but I guess some parents don't," he says.

Jones is of a generation that thinks too many children are receiving too little guidance at home. "They have no respect for authority, for organizations or institutions," he says. "They have no respect for any of that."

Call him old-fashioned, but you can't dispute the logic.

I mean, what kind of parent does not know his child's bike?

And Jones gets no argument from 35-year-old Jill Golomb, his neighbor and Kenny's mother.

"Kids are left alone too long," Golomb says. "They have no supervision. I work part-time, but I'm here for my kids. People need to take more interest in their kids."

To try and fill some of these voids, Plantation offers a variety of children's activities. There are team sports, karate lessons and fishing tournaments; a summer day camp and, come fall, an after-school program. "We're trying to reach out to these kids, to work with them," Jones says.

A curfew has been in effect in the common areas for more than two years.

The bike registration program signed up only 10 residents in its first two weeks. But Jones hopes more will come forward as word spreads.

Of course, it also would help if kids locked their bikes. They don't, and that is perhaps the one thing that has not changed since we were children.

Still, Tommy Parker says, "Now I bring it inside my house at night."

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