Police plan random stops of taxis for safety checks

13 cab companies to take part in program

March 22, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

If you jump into a Baltimore taxi soon, you stand a good chance of being pulled over by police for no reason at all.

A program that began yesterday allows city officers to stop most cabs to briefly check on the well-being of drivers and passengers as part of a safety initiative called Taxis on Patrol (TOP).

In addition, drivers are being trained to help police report suspicious activity and crime, "to be extra eyes and ears to assist us in keeping the city safe," said Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris.

Only cabs with TOP stickers on the back will be stopped as part of the program.

Police have reached an agreement with 13 cab companies, including the largest, Yellow Transportation Inc., under which taxi drivers will turn off their meters during the stops.

Baltimore, with about 1,000 cabs are on the street at any one time, had a similar program in the 1970s.

Norris said that when he was in New York, the city had a similar program, instituted after 31 cabdrivers were shot and killed in 1996. He said eight were killed the next year. "I've wanted to do this here for some time," he said.

Police said 25 city cabdrivers were robbed last year and six have been held up this year.

The last time a Baltimore taxi driver was killed was in September 1999. Another was killed in 1998, three were killed in 1997, and two were fatally shot in 1995.

Norris said cabdrivers are in one of the most dangerous professions. "They work late hours," he said. "They work in desolate parts of the city. They are easily targeted as crime victims."

Joseph W. Matthews, 51, a driver for Yellow cab, said he surveyed passengers before the safety program was instituted and a majority supported the police efforts. "It will help bad guys stay out of our cabs," he said.

Signs will be posted in cabs to explain the program, also known as the Pull-Over Program, to passengers. Police will be allowed to pull over only cabs carrying passengers, and Norris said the stops will take no more than a minute.

"The city belongs to all of us," Mayor Martin O'Malley said in announcing the program. "And all of us have a role to play in making it a safer place."

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