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A call for cabbies to wear bulletproof vests

The mayor and the police commissioner say they aren't needed but the head of the union for city livery cabdrivers believes outfitting drivers with bulletproof vests is essential to their safety on the night shift.

"If it were up to me, we would have every driver who works the night shift wear one. But it won't be mandatory," said Fernando Mateo, president of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers.

Mateo, who drew criticism for suggesting livery drivers use racial profiling when picking up passengers, announced over the weekend that he's collecting the donated vests from a security company and other sources for cabbies working at night.

The announcement came after cabdriver Trevor Bell was shot and critically wounded earlier this month during a robbery while he was working in Queens.

Despite Mateo's concerns, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly don't think the protective vests are needed.

"Last year was the lowest year on record for homicides," Kelly said at a news conference Monday.

Bloomberg also doesn't think Mateo's plan is necessary, but "if they do it as a private organization, there's nothing wrong with it," he said.

Mateo has already received a dozen vests donated by a security company and two more from a retired police officer, but he wants as many drivers as possible to have the option to wear one.

Mateo doesn't dispute that crime has dropped, but said drivers still feel at risk.

"You can't tell the driver working the midnight not to be afraid. That's easier said than done," he said.

A typical new vest costs $450, Mateo said. With Erik Ortiz

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