Late at night, when crimes are more likely to happen, cop cars and taxicabs are often the only vehicles on city streets. Thus, the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association (TLPA)’s Transportation On Patrol (TOP) program trains taxicab drivers, and other “for hire” drivers, in a neighborhood watch program on wheels to assist law enforcement. TOP volunteers watch for criminal behavior, emergency situations and suspicious activity. This is reported to their dispatchers who in turn report the information to the proper authorities. Alternately, they can call 911 or a nonemergency police number on cell phones.
40 Years Ago
The TOP program is not new. The first one began in 1973 in Far Rockaway, New York. In the 1970s, 7-Eleven stores started giving taxi drivers free coffee and access to bathrooms in exchange for using their parking lots as cabstands at night. This resulted in an 80% drop in violent incidents to cashiers in about 500 stores in New England, New York and New Jersey. Yellow Cab and the Baltimore Police Department has had a TOP program for over 20 years and a similar Cabs on Patrol program has operated in Houston since 1992.
On the very first day of the TOP program in Denver in 2011, a Metro Taxi driver (and TOP volunteer) witnessed a hit-and-run accident which killed a valet at a nightclub. The driver was able to record the license plate number of the pickup involved and the hit-and-run driver was arrested after the taxicab driver reported the license plate number. Metro Taxi’s entire fleet of over 400 drivers has been trained in the TOP program, with an estimated 800-900 taxi drivers in the Denver area being TOP trained.
New and Exciting
What is new is a reenergized TOP initiative to take the program nationwide and, indeed, globally. TOP programs are already in operation in a dozen U.S. cities, including Anchorage, Atlanta, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Little Rock and Tampa, as well as cities in Australia, Singapore and the United Kingdom. TOP is also seeking corporate sponsorships; certification from national law enforcement organizations; partnerships with federal government agencies; and engaging the national media.
Working with e-Cubed Learning, the TLPA Foundation has created online TOP Driver and TOP Operations courses. The first one trains drivers how to observe and report effectively. The second one trains fleet operations staff how to track incident reports. There is also a demonstration which gives a taste of the actual course, as well as starting a TOP program. The TOP Driver course costs $5.00 per driver and the TOP Operations and demonstration courses are free (see www.tlpa.org).
TOP volunteers are taught how to observe obvious signs like abandoned vehicles and broken windows on closed businesses or residences. Suspicious activities include behavior such many people entering a residence repeatedly or gather- ing in suspicious groups. They are taught to note the location of the incident, where the suspect was headed and how to describe the suspect in detail. Dispatchers are taught to ask questions about incident location, type of incident, emergency assistance required, and the call back number for the cab driver. Finally, drivers are told not to pursue or restrain anyone involved in an incident.
A Simple Idea
The TOP program is based on the simple idea, “If you see something, say something.” Having an extra set of eyes and ears in a community is always appreciated, especially with today’s more limited budgets. Just a cab with TOP stickers displayed can be a deterrent to criminals. Finally, when a TOP driver is publicly recognized for aiding in preventing a crime or helping catch a criminal, it improves the public image of taxi drivers and the cab company.
Unfortunately, as with all worthwhile programs, there are some individuals who are against it. The taxicab drivers and company owners who do participate in this program should be highly respected as brave and caring people who do their best to make their communities a better place for all to live by assisting public safety officials. It’s not al- ways easy or comfortable to do what is right. Regardless of that, these TOP participants have the courage to help police protect the streets.
About the Author: Bill Siuru is a retired USAF colonel. He has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Arizona State University. His military assignments included teaching engineering at West Point, commander of the research laboratory at the U.S. Air Force Academy and Director of Engineering at Wright-Patterson AFB. For the past 35 years, he has been writing about automotive, aviation and technology subjects.