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November 17, 1999
Cabbie Camera To The Rescue
J M Shenoy in New York
For many of New York City's 42,000 cabbies who live with the fear of being robbed or assaulted, there is a glimmer of hope.
This week, the Taxi and Limousine Commission will fit three yellow cabs and six for-hire cars with miniature surveillance cameras that focus on drivers and passengers.
The program could be extended to more than 100 cabs soon, and if proved successful, it could embrace every cab in the city.
As the police and inspectors from the TLC began cracking down on cabbies prompted by a formal complaint by Hollywood star Danny Glover who had a problem getting a cab in Manhattan, taxi drivers learned early this week that Cabbie Camera could help them.
There will be extensive announcements about the program, and passengers will not miss the prominently-placed infrared digital devices, TLC officials said.
Several African American passengers think the idea is terrific. "There may never be an excuse for a cabbie in the near future to refuse a ride to anyone, particularly an African American, because they feel they could be robbed or refused the fare," said Fard Washington, a waiter at a trendy restaurant.
But some cabbies had reservations.
"Some of the people who kill or do horrible things are maniacs," said Bill Singh. "They are high on drugs, they act first and they do not think after that. They become too crazy. They are in their own cuckoo world."
Bill Singh may take heart from the fact that crimes against cabbies declined 60 per cent in Perth, Australia, after cameras were installed.
But he has also heard that in Houston, where 400 cabs were fitted with the camera in January, robberies against cabbies have dropped only by about 15 per cent.
"It is scary, isn't it," he said. "People go around killing when there is a policeman around the corner or right in front of the police. They will kill the policeman too. So why should they be worried about a small camera?"
"Perhaps they think they can destroy the camera?"
Officials say the images are stored in a hidden device and will be retained even if a passenger breaks the camera.
The camera does not require film because the photos are stored as digital images. Stored images can be downloaded using a cable connection to a personal computer and printed out on a laser printer, officials said. They also said the date, time and fleet or vehicle registration number are printed on each image.
Gurinder Singh just loved the idea of Cabbie Cameras.
"I do not know whether we will end up paying for these (cameras) or how much they will cost, but this should have happened long ago," he said.
Sam Goldstein, whose yellow cab was fitted with a camera about a month ago, thinks it is a brilliant idea.
"They will never fool with you... They know their picture will be taken," Goldstein, who has been robbed several times during his four-decade career, told the Daily News.
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