Northland News

Cabbies, cameras keep eye out for crime

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COURTNEY HERGESHEIMER/THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Yellow Cab driver advocate Rick Brown shows off the cameras that will be installed in every Yellow Cab of Columbus, which is starting a program called Taxis on Patrol. It will be a kind of "block watch on wheels," with cab drivers reporting crimes and suspicious situations to police.
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By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Columbus has a wave of new crime-fighters armed with cameras and the power of observation.

Yellow Cab of Columbus, with the blessing of the Columbus Division of Police and the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, has launched Taxis on Patrol, a so-called "block watch on wheels" that puts additional eyes and ears on the streets 24 hours a day.

Over the next several months, each of the Yellow Cab's taxis will be outfitted with dashboard cameras that can help catch criminals in the act.

One camera is positioned to look over the hood of the vehicle while the other focuses on passengers.

If cabbies suspect there's a crime, they are instructed to push a button on the equipment indicating that segment of video could contain vital footage.

The cabs themselves do not store video. Rather, the footage is transmitted to dispatching headquarters.

Meanwhile, cabbies are being trained via a one-hour video about how to accurately report a crime in progress.

Denise Funderburke, who drives for Yellow Cab, was one of the first cabbies to volunteer for the training.

"I want to help," she said. "I want to be part of Columbus being a wonderful city."

Through the training, cabbies are asked to observe details, such as what the suspects wearing and which direction they are fleeing. However, they are directed not to get involved in a crime in progress.

"You're taught to witness and report," Funderburke said, "and you're actually advised to leave the scene."

Jeff Kates, president of the local cab company, said it will cost about $1,000 to install the camera equipment in all 130 cabs. He said cabbies cover 7 million miles of road annually and are on the street all hours of the day, 365 days a year.

"All you've got to do is if you see something, say something," Kates said.

He said the program has been around since the 1970s, but is gaining interest once again in major metropolitan areas across the United States.

United Dairy Farmers, a sponsor of the new initiative, will be an official staging location for Yellow Cab.

Kates said the program will be monitored for a year and the results will be reported to law-enforcement agencies.

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