Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of taxi driver robbery. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of taxi robbery, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

To understand the problem of taxi robberies it is important for local police agencies to understand the types of services normally provided by taxis operating in their jurisdiction. The central distinction is between hackney cabs and livery cabs (discussed above). Other distinctions among types of taxi services may also be important for understanding the environment in which drivers normally work.

Incidents

  • How many robberies of taxi drivers occur in your jurisdiction? What has been the trend over time in recent years?
  • What percentage of all robberies in your jurisdiction is of taxi drivers?
  • What percentage of taxi robberies results in injury or death to the driver?
  • How many attempted robberies of taxi drivers occur? What is the ratio of attempted taxi driver robberies to completed taxi driver robberies?
  • What percentage of robberies of taxi drivers is reported to police? Is there an agency that victims may report to other than the police?

Taxi Company Practices

  • Is the industry primarily operated by large vehicle-leasing firms or by independent owner-operators who pay set fees for radio equipment and access to fares through them?
  • Do many of the taxis in the area operate without being attached to a radio-cab company?
  • Are taxis allowed to cruise the streets for fares? Are they limited to taxi-stand pick-ups?
  • Are there regulations that limit taxi drivers’ discretion in accepting fares?
  • Do drivers receive any compensation for lost wages due to crime victimization, crime-related injuries, complaint filing, or case prosecution?
  • What policies, if any, have taxi companies in your jurisdiction enacted to prevent robbery of their drivers?
  • Do taxi companies authorize drivers to refuse to pick up or drop off passengers in certain areas of the jurisdiction? If so, do crime reports indicate that these areas are in fact unsafe? Has this practice created any controversy in the community?

It is also important for police agencies to understand the types of passengers normally frequenting cabs in the area and why they take taxis. Common passenger types include:

  • the disabled and the elderly;
  • non-drivers–including the poor, those who have lost their licenses, and the young;
  • those unable or unwilling to drive because of their alcohol or drug consumption;
  • regular passengers;
  • those going to the airport or train station; and
  • business people.

Victims

  • Which type of driver is most commonly a robbery victim in the area–the hackney, or ply-for-hire, driver who can pick up fares from the street or the driver limited to pre­ booked fares? Are there differences between these drivers in the types of vehicles they use or in the safety equipment on the vehicles? Is there a difference in the amount of interaction among drivers of these types of taxis? Do the drivers in these groups belong to different ethnic groups, have different levels of experience, or represent different age groups?
  • Were the robbers picked up off the street by a taxi licensed only for pre-booked fares, suggesting that the drivers were risking their license to take the fare?
  • Were the drivers in the cab when the robbery started?
  • Did the victims have, and use, safety screens?
  • Did the cabs have a digital camera or a global positioning satellite (GPS) system?
  • Do the victims usually operate with a radio or have a CB in the cab?
  • Do the cabs have some type of alarm, such as a trouble light on the outside of the cabs, an alarm that is triggered at the dispatch office, or a procedure for using a trouble code word?
  • Were the victims able to summon help during the incident? If so, was enough information given to locate the driver? If help arrived, at what point in the robbery incident did someone appear?
  • Did the victims have a weapon (e.g., gun, knife, tire iron, pepper spray, or flashlight)? Were they able to use it?
  • Are drivers usually injured during, or after, the robbery?

If so, what types of injuries do they suffer?

  • Is the proportion of drivers from particular demographic groups who are robbed approximately the same as the proportion of drivers from these groups in the local taxi industry as a whole?
  • How fearful are taxi drivers in your jurisdiction of robbery? How has that fear level changed over time?

Offenders

  • Are most of the robbers passengers in the cab?
  • Do the offenders most often hail the cab from the street, or call for a cab from a phone booth or mobile phone, or from a particular location?
  • Did the robber operate on his/her own or with an accomplice? Was the offender from an identifiable group? Were the victim and the offender from the same ethnic or racial group? Was the robber male or female?
  • Did the offender intimidate the driver through threats or harassment prior to the robbery?
  • Did the offender appear to be an opportunistic offender or one who seemed to be experienced in carrying out this type of offense?
  • Was the perpetrator armed with a weapon? If so, what type of weapon? When was the weapon first shown or threatened?
  • In what parts of town do the robberies tend to occur or cluster? Where was the pick-up location? What destination was given? Where was the actual robbery done? Was the driver or cab taken to another location after the robbery?
  • Were the robbery sites given as the destinations at the beginning of the taxi trips?
  • Are the areas where robberies occur similar in design? For example, are they difficult to maneuver in, or do they involve complicated street plans where drivers can become easily lost?
  • Are incident areas clustered geographically? Do these areas also have high rates of fare evasions? Do experienced drivers tend to avoid these areas?
  • Do robberies involving drug addicts occur more often in certain geographic areas, such as near dealers’ residences?
  • When do these robberies mainly occur (time of day, day of week, month, season)? Do these times correspond to driver shifts? For example, do robberies tend to occur toward the end of a shift on a busy night? As drivers are returning to base or home? Or do robberies tend to occur when drivers are not busy, suggesting they may be taking risks to increase their takings?
  • Do robberies in certain places occur more often at certain times of the day?
  • Are the robbery locations normally deserted at the time of day when the incidents occurred there?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them to determine whether they have been effective. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding area. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.) Due to the problems involved in finding comparable surrounding areas, police agencies may try to get comparison figures from similar types of cities or local areas within the region.

† Also see Problem Solving Tips: A Guide to Reducing Crime and Disorder through Problem-Solving Partnerships ( U.S. Department of Justice COPS Office, 2002). [Full Text]

Police and industry efforts to record the number of robberies of taxi drivers more accurately may lead to an increase in reported crimes that reflects only reporting practices and does not indicate a real increase in the number of incidents. If police agencies or taxi regulators try to increase robbery and attempted robbery reporting levels, then they should do this several months prior to the implementation of any new preventive measures.

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to taxi robbery:

  • reductions in the number of robberies (and attempted robberies) of taxi drivers (and in the proportion of taxi robberies in comparison to all robberies in the area), controlling for taxi business volume and the number of taxis;
  • reductions in the number of repeat robbery victimizations of taxi drivers, controlling for the number of drivers;
  • reductions in the proportion of completed robberies to the number of attempted robberies of taxi drivers;
  • reductions in the reported response time of police and other drivers to calls for assistance;
  • reductions in the number of homicides of taxi drivers (and in the proportion of driver homicides in comparison to all homicides in the area), controlling for taxi business volume and the number of taxis;
  • reductions in the number of driver assaults (and in the proportion of taxi driver assaults in comparison to all assaults in the area), controlling for taxi business volume, the number of taxis, the number of drivers, and the number of years of experience of drivers;
  • reductions in the number of repeat assault victimizations of taxi drivers, controlling for the number of drivers;
  • reductions in the severity of injuries resulting from robberies and attempted robberies of taxi drivers, controlling for the number of assaults;
  • reductions in the time taken off following robbery or attempted robbery by taxi drivers, controlling for the number of assaults;
  • reductions in the number of workers compensation claims filed by taxi drivers following robberies or attempted robberies, controlling for taxi business volume and the number of drivers;
  • reductions in the number of driver complaints of harassing comments (a possible precursor to a robbery), controlling for taxi business volume;
  • reduction in driver turnover in the industry, controlling for taxi business volume;
  • reductions in reported fear among drivers of being crime victims;
  • reductions in the number of passenger complaints to the taxi regulator (including service refusals overall, and those based on claims of racial or ethnic discrimination and residential discrimination (both in terms of pick-ups from residences and street hails once the destination has been given), controlling for taxi business volume and the number of taxis; and
  • reductions in passenger volume.

Police agencies, taxi regulators, or industry representatives should measure the extent to which initiatives have been adopted to help ensure that any apparent success (or failure) is correctly attributed to the appropriate anti­robbery initiative. If police or regulators are to assess prevention efforts accurately, then there must be cooperation among the various information holders. One way to accomplish this would be to document the crime prevention hardware and systems on a vehicle at the time it is inspected by the taxi regulator, with owners being required to report changes between inspections with an easy-to-use reporting form. Also, the agency operating a grant or loan program to support the installation of particular security devices should keep records of the vehicles receiving the equipment and forward this information to taxi liaison officers in policing agencies or to those in the regulator’s office who monitor crimes against drivers. And finally, police agencies instituting new patrol practices in response to taxi crime should document when these initiatives begin so that their effectiveness can be monitored more accurately. As this listing clearly indicates, no one stakeholder can perform the assessment needed to determine what works in a particular area. Cooperation is crucial for accurate assessment.

Getting information from taxi drivers about the volume of their business may be difficult if they are not required to keep a log of their trips since they deal in cash and some of them may be reluctant to disclose the extent of their earnings, particularly if they do not report all of their income for tax purposes or to the owner of the vehicle (where the owner is entitled to a percentage of the takings). Also, driving a taxi is often an entry-level job for many new, and undocumented, immigrants who also may be reluctant to report any information to policing agencies or taxi regulators.