Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.
The taxi industry is often regulated by an agency within local government, by an independent commission, or by the police.† These bodies set fares and limit the number of licenses permitted within particular areas, as well as control the conditions of vehicles and monitor the behavior of drivers. Often the jurisdictional boundaries between these regulatory agencies and police are not clear to everyone affected. The problem is compounded if the regulatory agency does not deploy inspectors during the late night or early evening hours. The police may be called upon to act in areas for which they have little training. They may be asked by drivers to resolve complaints that are civil, rather than criminal in nature–such as fare evasion in some locations. Taxis may operate outside their home jurisdiction and taxis from other areas may drop passengers off in local policing areas. Coordination between police and the taxi regulators may require the appointment of a special officer.
† In Boston, the taxi industry is regulated by the Boston Police Department (the Hackney Carriage Unit) while in New York City, the Taxi and Limousine Commission sets the rules for both hackney and livery services (see http://www.nyc.gov/html/tlc/html/home/home.shtml ).
The development of industry-wide responses should involve not only the police and the regulatory bodies covering a service area, but also other interested groups such as drivers, drivers’ associations, vehicle owners, and radio-cab booking companies. One researcher has commented that voluntary measures, even with wide support among drivers, do not have much chance of penetration into the industry without the support of owners.15 Sometimes these agencies require a single type of safety device, such as a bullet¬proof screen between passengers and drivers, while at other times they may allow drivers or owners to choose from several possible devices, such as safety screens, digital surveillance cameras, or automatic vehicle locators (AVLs) in combination with an alarm.16 Policies that provide some choice among safety measures may represent a compromise among competing interest groups rather than a judgment about comparative effectiveness .† However, because so little is known about the effectiveness of most of these measures, it is too soon to draw conclusions about whether it is more useful to focus on a single prevention measure or to allow a variety of measures to operate within a single area.
† But see Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources (2003) for an example of a regulatory impact statement on the requirement that security cameras be installed in taxicabs in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, where the costs and benefits of security cameras, driver safety shields, and emergency lights and duress alarms are each set out.
The responses recommended below are reasonably likely to have some beneficial effect in preventing robberies of taxi drivers; however, unless otherwise noted, none of these responses has been properly evaluated for effectiveness. Since so little research has been done in this area, it is too early to label measures as ineffective. This is why the last three responses are included but discussed separately as responses with limited potential for effectiveness. It is also important to note that, although installation costs are frequently cited as reasons for not implementing particular problem-solving strategies, a number of grant or loan programs have been set up, such as those in New York City17 and Washington, D.C.18
The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies†† and police reports. Several of these strategies may apply to your community’s problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do. Give careful consideration to who in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it.
†† Mayhew (2000a) presented a comprehensive review of prevention strategies related to assaults of taxi drivers.
Physically separating drivers from their fares can help prevent driver assault and/or robbery.
† A report from the Manitoba Taxicab Board (1991) presents an extensive discussion of taxi screens.
†† The importance of industry-wide use of safety screens in an area has been illustrated with the case of New York City livery drivers. If livery drivers owned the cab they drove, they were exempt from the mandatory shield requirement directed at hackney cabs in the 1990s. While homicide deaths among hackney drivers dropped, livery drivers continued to be victimized (Marosi, n.d.). In 2000, following a number of killings of livery drivers, all livery drivers were required to install either a shield or a digital surveillance camera (Luo, 2004; see also New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, 2000b). Homicides have declined markedly for livery drivers since 2000. It is difficult to credit shields completely for this change, however, since a number of other prevention programs were also in effect in that period.
Although taxis in many large U.S. cities have driver safety screens, this is by no means a universal feature in all vehicles. Screens have been seen to have the following disadvantages:20
† Passenger injury was seen as a major problem in New York City cabs. The “Celebrity Talking Taxi” Program, begun in 1997, used recordings by celebrities to remind passengers to wear their seat belts (New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, 2002). The program was abandoned in 2003 following a study of passenger compliance (Feuer, 2003). The recordings were seen as annoying and repetitive, leading many passengers to defy the recommendation to buckle-up.
However, as one study found, drivers who have been the victims of assaults or robberies may be more likely to want screens in their cabs than those who have been the victims of less serious crimes.21 If taxi regulators require drivers to have screens in their vehicles, then they must provide drivers with information about the types of attacks that screens can protect them against, such as whether they are shatter resistant as well as being bulletproof.
Security cameras in taxis can capture robberies in progress. Credit: www.toronto-crimestoppers.com
The types of cameras available for use in taxicabs have become increasingly sophisticated in the last 10 years.22 Digital cameras, with infrared capability, can be connected to systems that hold a large number of images. Drivers must be aware whether their system writes over images or can retain a certain number of images if an alarm is triggered. If camera images are stored on equipment held in the trunk of the cab, there is a possibility that when robbery events are caught on camera, offenders may try to destroy the equipment (and cab) to eliminate the evidence. Systems that transmit the images to a central location away from the taxi should help to overcome this problem if offenders are aware of how these systems work. Industry representatives should explore technological innovations that make vehicle destruction less likely.
Not all passengers like cameras.23 Part of this may be due to uncertainty over how their images will be used. Regulators need to set up strict safeguards to protect passenger privacy. Legislation over use of the images may provide some protection, but this may also be achieved if the images are not available to the drivers.† Clearly, much depends on the technology used.
† This would require images to be stored and accessed only through a central computing facility, such as one run by the police department or the industry’s oversight commission. These images would then only be downloaded in special circumstances, such as when a crime occurs or a complaint has been made against the driver. Protection against passenger complaints is seen by many drivers as an additional advantage of having cameras in their cabs and may encourage drivers to install them. Cameras can also be used to help prove or disprove complaints against drivers–if the images have been preserved.
Some cities, such as New York City, Chicago, and Sydney, Australia, permit drivers to have cameras in their taxis in lieu of driver safety shields.†† Police-industry partnerships need to be aware that not all prevention devices may be equally effective against robbery. Crime displacement may occur if potential robbers see one set of drivers as less protected than drivers with other devices in their cabs.
†† The effectiveness of cameras in taxis is a hotly debated issue (see Rathbone, n.d.).
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has advocated so-called “open mikes.”24 These devices block the airwaves on that channel, broadcasting whatever comes from the open mike. Accidentally switching on an open mike may be a particular problem if the open channel is also the company’s dispatching channel since it is blocked when left “open” and the driver cannot be contacted to close it. If the driver carries a mobile phone, the dispatcher has that number, and mobile phone use by taxi drivers is not prohibited, then that problem may be overcome.
Drivers can use alarms to signal to some central location (taxi company or police station) that they are having trouble or they can be used to set off a “trouble light” on the vehicle itself that cannot be seen by the passengers. Alarms triggered easily through the pressing of a toggle switch at the driver’s foot, on the steering wheel, or on the radio itself may also be accidentally switched on. While this may be avoided if the driver has to confirm the alarm, this puts an extra burden on the driver as an incident is unfolding.
In an area with foot or vehicle traffic, passersby may see trouble alarms and summon police. Publicity about trouble lights should increase awareness among those outside the taxi industry about the meaning of these lights and avoid confusion with “ready-for-hire” lights on hackney cabs.
Drivers and dispatchers need to be carefully trained by the taxi companies:
Police officers must be carefully trained in the protocols for response so that they do not increase the potential harm to the driver. Police departments must understand the problems that may arise with these systems and should review with taxi drivers and dispatching companies their response protocols.
Taxi dispatching companies are increasingly using GPS systems to determine which driver is closest to a pick-up location. Some drivers do not like them because they do not take into account driving times to locations or because they allow too much oversight of the driver’s movements. Driver resistance to having an alarm system linked to GPS tracking may be overcome if the systems are independently installed (such as by the taxi-oversight commission or agency) and monitored (by the commission or the local police department).
Given that one of the reasons that taxi drivers are at risk of robbery is that they carry cash with them, a number of different strategies have been developed to limit the availability of cash in taxis.
Machines that allow taxi drivers to accept credit cards are becoming more common.
† Australian research has shown that many robberies involve small amounts of money–less than $30 (Keatsdale Pty. Ltd., 1995).
Several methods can be used to prevent passengers from seeing that drivers are carrying large amounts of money and knowing where it is kept. The first two techniques listed below may be more effective since they do not involve a possible confrontation with passengers:
Drivers may learn these practices from other drivers–e.g., family or friends in the business–or through driver safety education programs (see No. 28 below).
† For example, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission sets out some of this information in an easy-to-use format for passengers (and drivers) at www.nyc.gov/html/tlc/html/home/home.shtml.
†† New York City and Washington, D.C., have recently dealt with highprofile campaigns and lawsuits against service refusals on the ground that they amount to illegal racial profiling or residence discrimination. In New York City, the recent campaign against service refusal on racial grounds began in response to a complaint by actor Danny Glover in 1999 who highlighted the problem facing many African-Americans and Hispanics in the city (Yinger, n.d.). Mayor Giuliani reinstated sting operations by police officers that resulted in immediate suspension of the driver, along with other sanctions for repeat offending. The immediate suspension measure was later overturned by a federal judge as it did not meet the requirement for a fair hearing prior to suspension (Padberg v. McGrath- McKechnie, 2002). In Washington, D.C., there have been a number of lawsuits filed in which discriminatory service refusal has been alleged (see Kovaleski, 2003; Mitchell v. Diamond Cab Company, 2003). A report by The Equal Rights Center (2003) cited the D.C. Taxicab Commission for neglecting its responsibilities in the civil rights area for failing to investigate discrimination complaints promptly and thoroughly and for not establishing effective fines and penalties for drivers or companies (see also Kovaleski and Chan, 2003).
One of the reasons police agencies need to be concerned about taxi robbery is that robbery and fear of robbery fuel discriminatory practices if drivers perceive that they are at unreasonable risk merely by picking up certain passengers or going into certain neighborhoods. This problem is likely to be more difficult to deal with than racial profiling within policing agencies. Instead of dealing with a situation in which an officer is compelled by law to refrain from an action unless it can be justified, here, the driver is compelled by law to act unless the non-action can be justified. In effect, the law is telling one group in a risky industry (police officers) to be risk averse, while it is telling another group in another risky industry (taxi drivers) that they cannot be risk averse. However, if the robbery risks are low, then it becomes easier for drivers to comply with the law and more difficult for them to justify illegal refusals on grounds of high risk. In effect, the low actual risks allow drivers to be both risk averse and not engage in racial or residential discrimination.
One commentator has suggested that general rates of service refusals in New York City are not related to crime levels but rather to the economics of driving a cab.28,† This finding points to a need for policing agencies to use a problem-solving approach to illegal service refusals–looking at the data on serious crimes against taxi drivers in an area (including type of crime, area, and characteristics of offenders), the number of taxis in service (and the fees paid for cab rental), and the enforcement mechanisms available against drivers and companies who use racial profiling or other illegal screening techniques to ensure that these are all geared to help limit the practice.
† According to this research, as crime was falling in the city, service refusal complaints were rising. These complaints were highest when the demand for cabs was highest, as measured by time spent cruising for customers. This is because when there are a lot of cabs looking for passengers (either because there are more cabs or the fares are high), cabbies cannot afford to be as selective as they can be when there are fewer cabs on the road and fares are lower. In addition, this research cited passenger surveys suggesting that service refusals (both of minority and non-minority passengers) appeared to be related to the pressure to make money and the desire to work only in certain areas of the city.
† The trip sheet may be required by the regulator or company to keep track of driver income, but it may also be used to document patterns of robbery if the driver is killed or seriously incapacitated during the crime.
† In a study of taxi drivers in Cardiff, Wales, drivers related a number of incidents in which they tried to go to police stations for assistance late at night only to find that the stations were not open (Smith, forthcoming).
During or after a robbery incident, drivers are sometimes advised to get out of the cab if they are sure it is safe to do so. This is an area in which driver training, based on experience in an area, should guide drivers in how best to judge whether to exit a cab during or after an incident.
Drivers should carry first aid kits in their cabs even if this is not required by their local regulatory agency. These could help limit any injury they receive during a robbery or assault.
Similarly, drivers should keep an extra key in a pocket to allow them to use their cab if the robbers have taken their keys. This is particularly important if they have been abandoned in a remote location and have no radio or telephone.
There are various organizational approaches police agencies can take to address taxi robbery problems. Special units could be set up to deal with taxi driver robbery if the number of incidents appears high. These units should be used to help determine patterns in taxi robbery and then develop strategies to address what they find. For example, they may target specific areas with high numbers of robbery incidents using decoy taxis driven by police officers.
Police may also want to have a more general taxi unit that deals with a variety of taxi-related crimes, developing expertise in the area. The taxi unit should:
The constitutionality of this program was recently upheld by the New York Court of Appeals.30 TRIP differs from earlier programs that were struck down by the Court of Appeals31 and the U.S. District Court.32 The earlier programs involved too much discretion for police in how to carry out the stops. A program in Boston (TIP), similar to TRIP in New York City, has been upheld by the U.S. Circuit Court.33 The Boston Police inform drivers where they will have their check points so that drivers who feel danger or concern can drive by and turn on their cab’s amber light (an alarm signal) for the officers to see (Sweeney, 2004).
† See Spelman (1990) for a discussion of repeat offender programs.
Setting up rules, regulations, and practices that control the industry and reduce both actual and perceived unfair or dangerous practices by drivers may increase sympathy for drivers and limit the excuses† offenders may offer for targeting taxi drivers.
† “Excuses” refers to the ways in which offenders rationalize their behavior to themselves and others; it does not imply a legal or moral excuse for their offending.
† For example, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (2001) recently raised the flat-rate amount that drivers could charge for going from JFK Airport to anywhere in Manhattan to $35.
†† Taxi dispatchers at Newark Airport ask passengers in the taxi queue where they are going and write the fare on a sheet that is given to the passenger. The sheet contains taxi rules and regulations, as well as information about who to contact to complain about over-charging or other offenses by drivers.
Area experts, such as experienced police officers and former drivers, should run these sessions so that drivers see them as worthwhile. Payment for the sessions can be made by the drivers, the dispatching companies, the local government, or by grants. Details of the exact “scripts” or “modus operandi” used by offenders should not be made public to discourage imitation. Formal training has not been found to be associated with lower victimization levels among Canadian drivers. 36 Programs should inform drivers of various Internet sites that contain driver safety information or information about how taxis are regulated in their area. These include:
Companies can use Caller ID to check to see whether the call is coming from a private or public address, a telephone booth, or a mobile phone. This technology has several uses: it can be used to trace callers if they fail to show up, evade the fare, or attack or rob the driver and it allows companies to match the telephone number to blacklisted numbers (if they have such a list). Passengers calling for cabs from public telephone booths or mobile phones may be more closely scrutinized by drivers since they are less traceable than some other passengers are.
Because so little is known about taxi robberies and their prevention, the only responses included here are ones that appear to hold little promise as effective protection strategies against robberies.
Drivers can use this type of system to prevent nonpayment of fares as well as keep passengers from getting out where it is not safe. Locking passengers in when no screen is present is likely to escalate the use of violence against drivers. Locking passengers in when there are screens may lead to vehicle damage.
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