The Nassau County Police Department will train taxi drivers to spot street crimes and dangerous fares as part of a new "neighborhood watch on wheels program," county officials announced Thursday.
Taxi companies that participate in the voluntary program will ask drivers to take free online training to help them detect suspicious behavior either by their fares or on the streets. Drivers are instructed to take notes about suspects and notify taxi dispatchers, who would call 911.
The "Taxis on Patrol" program could curb the number of crimes against cabdrivers, currently about 20 per year, said Chief of Department Steven Skrynecki.
"This is a win-win for the taxi companies and the county," said Phil Fortuna, president of Long Island Checker Cab. All Island Taxi is the other company participating in the program.
The program is modeled after a similar effort in Denver, where crimes against cabbies decreased, Nassau officials said. Taxi drivers also can take a training course offered by a private firm, with the cost absorbed by the taxi companies, officials said.
Drivers should not physically intervene to stop crime, Skrynecki said.
"They need to understand the parameters of the program," he said. "We don't want vigilante cabdrivers."
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said the program is unrelated to his precinct consolidation plan, which led to the departure of more than 100 officers. "This is more eyes and ears in the 'see something, say something' world that we live in," he said.
Police Benevolent Association president James Carver said the program should not just be limited to cabbies. "Anybody who is driving around and sees a crime being committed should call 911," he said. "Why limit it to one group?"
The program has two other elements:
As part of the effort to cut down on crimes against drivers, participating taxi companies will place stickers on their cars stating that they've agreed to be pulled over by police for random checks.
The police department will add taxi companies to its Security Police Information Network, in which hospitals, universities and other institutions receive email alerts about crimes, weather emergencies and traffic disruptions.
Nassau officials said they will invite Nassau's 37 other taxi companies and officials of the NICE Bus system to join them at a meeting about the program next week.