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Visitors to the police station on Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Street are greeted by a sight reflecting a growing epidemic in the city - dozens of stolen bicycles. With more bikes on the streets in spring and summer, the police expect the trend to only get worse.

Several months ago the police embarked on a campaign to return the stolen bikes to their owners, calling on residents to come to the station and try to identify their property.

"After this campaign, awareness rose among city residents about bicycle thefts. More people are filing complaints and people buying new bikes are writing down the number printed on their frames, which greatly eases identification in cases of theft," said a senior police officer.

"If the thieves change something on the bicycles, color them, or replace the handlebars or any other part, there is a chance of identifying the bikes according to the number printed on them the minute they leave the factory."

Two weeks ago the police detained six Or Yehuda youths aged 13 to 15 on suspicion of involvement in a wave of thefts in the city. The teenagers admitted to painting the bikes and selling them at a profit, mainly to young buyers, but also to adults.

At the Dizengoff station alone, 600 complaints of stolen bicycles were filed last year, an average of nearly two a day. Every day police officers bring in more stolen bikes, most of them seized while tied outside their owners' workplaces or in their homes' stairwells.

"We believe many more are being stolen, but people give up quickly and don't come to us to file a complaint," said Superintendent Boaz Blatt. "The public has the feeling that the bicycle issue doesn't interest us, but that's not true. We treat every complaint and violation as serious."

Police sources said many of the thefts are committed by homeless residents and people with drug problems, many of whom have set routes for searching for bicycles to steal. After cutting through a bicycle chain or lock they often sell the bike for several dozen shekels or some narcotics or food, regardless of the bike's value.

And what of the bikes gathering dust at the police station? "Unfortunately not all the bicycles are returned to their owners, and sometimes we are forced to put them on auction," said a police officer. "It's a shame - if there were more awareness about the issue, maybe people would file complaints more and discover, to their surprise, that their bikes are waiting for them at the station."