Attrition has thinned the blue line. Police helicopters that kept watch over the city are being sold. Street lights have been turned off, leaving neighborhoods dark.
No worry, Colorado Springs cabbies are on patrol.
In a new program called, not surprisingly, Cabs on Patrol, 150 Yellow Cab Co. drivers will be teaming up with police, reporting crimes and suspicious activity they see while driving around the city. Yellow Cab dispatchers will have direct access to police to pass on information that drivers spot and to alert drivers about people or vehicles officers are searching for.
The program, which will be officially announced March 23, comes at a time when the Police Department is dealing with budget cuts that have left positions vacant and curtailed its ability to catch criminals.
“Any time you can put extra eyes and ears on the streets, you’ve made an improvement,” said Fred Hair, general manager of Yellow Cab Co. of Colorado Springs.
Hair said his company approached police about the program after hearing about similar partnerships in other cities. The Police department was more than happy to accept the help, said Lt. David Whitlock, a police spokesman.
“We’ve had many, many successes in working with Yellow Cab in criminal investigations in the past and this is a formalization of that process,” he said.
The program comes at a time when the police department, as well as the rest of the city, has been facing serious budget cuts. The department’s 2010 budget is $4 million less than the year before, which was covered by eliminating the helicopter unit and not filling 50 vacancies.
However, Whitlock said budget cuts have not reduced the number of patrol officers and the cabbies aren’t being asked to do anything more than be vigilant.
“This is not in response to any of the obvious budget constraints, but rather another innovative program we’re happy to be a part of,” he said. “The areas that we saw in reduced staffing are areas where someone picking up the phone and reporting an emergency for the most part won’t see an impact.”
Hair said the offer of help from cabbies isn’t a reproach to the department or the work it’s been doing.
“They have certainly had to get by with less but they’ve done well with it,” he said. “Yeah they have got less money, but they have maintained the level of service that we’ve hoped for.”
He said the drivers are simply going to be extra eyes on the streets, and shouldn’t put themselves at risk if they see a crime.
“We’re still taxi cab drivers. We are not police officers,” he said. “We are going to report and stand back.”
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