It was the new anticrime program’s first success. The young man got into Daniel Brown’s Beck Taxi and started to boast about the smash-andgrab jewelry robbery he had just committed. The driver, a newly recruited member of Toronto’s Cabs on Patrol (COP) program, called his dispatcher as soon as the man got out of the cab, and minutes later Metro police had him in custody. The voluntary cabby organization, which had its beginnings in Phoenix in 1977, calls on participating Toronto drivers to sport a red-and-blue COP label on the side of the car and to alert police when they see a crime or disturbance as they move about the city. It is a service that many taxi drivers have always performed unofficially, but the COP program, which is being pushed by cab company executives and local politicians, seeks to formalize the arrangement. The police, in return for the help of the cabbies, have undertaken to provide instruction in reporting techniques to both drivers and dispatchers.
COP is currently used in communities in Texas, Arizona, Ohio and Colorado. But it has had mixed results elsewhere. A similar scheme was introduced in Calgary in 1979 but discontinued less than two years later after police expressed fears when overzealous cab drivers ran red lights in pursuit of offenders. In Toronto, COP has signed up only 300 of the city’s 2,600 cabs since the program began in March.
One reason for COP’s erratic history is that many drivers do not want to be visibly identified with the police. “I feel a lot safer driving around without that COP sticker,” says Americo Correira, a Metro cab driver for 11 years. Bruce Bell, president of Diamond Taxicab Association (Toronto) Ltd., one of the city’s five major participating taxi organizations, believes that these objections will fade away.
Since March, Toronto taxi dispatchers have called police with reports of vandalism, fights, accidents, fires, rapes and muggings. In the last two weeks of March, Diamond dispatchers alone fielded 86 COP-related calls. “COP is bound to help matters,” says Bill Klein, a 27-year veteran driver for Diamond. “It doesn’t do us much good with the cops, though. Just yesterday they were out ticketing one cabby after another for not wearing seatbelts.”
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