Preventing Violence Against Taxi Cab Drivers

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Safety of Saskatchewan’s taxi drivers is at the forefront of the news once again.  In Regina on the evening of November 24th, 2016 Iqbal Singh Sharma was stabbed several times in the neck, head and chest after an altercation among three of his passengers.  The Regina Leader Post article published on November 28th, 2016 stated Sharma is currently in an induced coma following the incident.  Unfortunately, this incident is one among many here in Saskatchewan.

According to Statistics Canada, Police-reported crime statistics in Canada for 2015 that our numbers don’t look very good.  Saskatchewan is among one of the highest provinces with the largest increase in the Crime Severity Index, homicide being one of the violations contributing to this increase.  To put it into perspective, Saskatchewan had 11,178 incidents per 100,000 of the population.  Out of all the census metropolitan areas throughout Canada, Saskatoon and Regina are the two cities with the highest severe crime rates and have had these highest rates since 2010.  Saskatchewan had a 9% increase in 2015 for violent crime with Saskatoon being the 3rd highest recorded.  Saskatchewan also had among the highest homicide and attempted murder rates in 2015, having a 19% increase making our province the highest among all the western provinces.  Saskatchewan, along with Manitoba, continued to report the highest rate of major assault among the provinces in 2015.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and others, have reported since the 1990s that the taxicab industry has a very high occurrence of workplace homicide.  It is also important to note that taxicab drivers face a greater risk or injury and homicide on the job than those working in law enforcement and security.  Factors that put taxi drivers at risk from passenger violence and aggression are:

  • Drivers work alone
  • Nightshift work in busy nightlife areas
  • Work in high demand periods (holidays and sporting events)
  • Passengers may be under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs
  • No one is readily available to provide assistance
  • Visibility can be poor or lighting inadequate, providing cover for potential assailants
  • There may be communication barriers

There are a number of ways that taxi drivers and operators can improve their security, highlighted by the following:

  • Developing procedures for working alone or in poorly lit or serviced areas such as keeping doors locked when alone in the vehicle and avoiding picking up hailing passengers in know high risk areas
  • Installing surveillance and security equipment in taxis such as alarms or emergency communication systems and checking their operation at the beginning of each shift
  • Developing and training drivers on emergency plans which detail how to respond to criminal activity
  • Avoiding isolated areas during driver changeover
  • Discouraging solo passengers from sitting directly behind you

The city of Regina also has a municipal taxi bylaw that requires all cabs to have cameras and GPS.  It states that companies have the “option to go above the mandatory security requirements outlined in the bylaw”.  NIOSH conducted a study which found that homicide rates were three times lower in the cities where taxicabs used security cameras.  A crucial component is to ensure optimal performance of security cameras and mainlining the cameras according to manufacturers’ instructions and not allowing security cameras to be intentionally disabled.  Security cameras mandated by ordinance are checked for functioning at yearly inspections organized by city regulators, if not more frequently, when taxicab vehicles are checked for safety.  Although company policies for security camera installation may be effective, municipal ordinances requiring that all taxicabs be equipped with operating security cameras may be more effective.  Such ordinances would ensure that smaller business and individual owner-operated taxicabs would use cameras, as do the nationally recognized taxicab companies that make up a large share of the market.

Recently there has been a push by some cab drivers for plexi-glass shields to be installed as a barrier between the front and back seat as they are in New York City, for the safety of the driver.  Not all drivers are on board with this as there is a perception that it cuts off the driver and customer interaction that may effect tips which most drivers are dependant upon.  Some drivers refute that perception with the idea of the technology capabilities we have today to have a partition that can be taken down during the day and put up during the night like a window. In the same NIOSH study as mentioned previously, the use of partitions held no statistical difference in homicide rates.  On the contrary, studies conducted in Baltimore, New York City and Winnipeg showed that partitions appeared to be effective in reducing homicides.   Regardless of these studies, partitions have not been widely accepted by the industry.

With all of these controls put in place taxi drivers may feel a little safer when they go to work but something else for them to keep in mind is to ‘pay attention’.  There is the belief out there that at least half of all taxicab driver homicides are not really about robbery but in fact just ‘senseless murders’.  UCLA sociologist Jack Katz believes that many violent criminals are acting out a role.  They don’t really care about the money or the victim and usually the robbery of the victim is an afterthought helping the criminal make sense out of his own actions.  Usually these criminals thrive on a sense of chaos and need to defile their victims.  Usually these types of behavior traits can produce early warning signs which can be observed as the customer purposefully trying to create a chaotic confrontation.  In these types of situations, the best response would most likely be to get away from the situation as quickly as possible and call for help before the situation escalates.

By putting effective engineering and administrative controls in place as well as drivers being observant at all times, making smart choices about how they react to a situation or who they pick up, hopefully we can minimize these tragedies and allow our taxi drivers to be able to go to work and feel safer.

References:

http://leaderpost.com/news/local-news/safety-of-taxi-drivers-a-concern-following-stabbing

http://www.ajpmonline.org/webfiles/images/journals/amepre/3793-stamped-061113.pdf

http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2016001/article/14642-eng.htm

https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/82944/whs-taxi-drivers.pdf

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