Violence rises sharply

By admin - Posted on 15 July 2008

Outraged cabdrivers take action after City of Chicago inexplicably rejects “Driver Safety Placard” proposal

After a wave of attacks and beatings against cabdrivers, the United Taxidrivers Community Council (UTCC) decided to ask the Department of Consumer Services (DCS) to install “Driver Safety Placards.” The proposed placards simply said: “Battery of an on duty taxi driver is a class 3 felony, punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment,” referring to a new law that protects cabdrivers from workplace violence.

The proposal had been submitted in March 2008. However, three months had passed since the presentation of the proposal with no response from the DCS. “We thought that this could be the beginning of a positive, collaborative relationship,” says Fayez Khozindar. “Why in the world would the city not want to promote driver safety?”

But the Department of Consumer Services (DCS) had other priorities. In a phone call received by a UTCC steering committee member, UTCC was informed that the commissioner had rejected the Driver Safety Placard proposal. The reason given: “clutter” caused by a 2 in. by 11 in. placard.

Responding to this inexplicable rejection of the proposal, drivers took matters into their own hands by holding a press conference and demonstration in front of DCS Ogden office to issue their own “Safety Placards” for fellow cabdrivers.

“We serve the city at all hours of the night, carry cash, and we work alone- we face incredible risks, without weapons or body armor- so how can the city deny us such basic protections?” asks Ron Florence, spokesperson of cabdriver advocacy group UTCC.

Cabdrivers are 60 times as likely to be murdered on the job as any other workers according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and face nearly as much risk of assault as police officers and private security guards, who are armed.

“If we cannot raise the awareness about this law, then we have no deterrent
against the violence that we face on a daily basis,” says UTCC Chair Fayez Khozindar. As of January 2008, an Illinois statute has increased penalties of assaulting cabdrivers to a felony offense, and is intended to deter attacks on workers in the high-risk occupation.

However, cabdrivers argue that this law is ineffective if would-be attackers are not informed of increased penalties. According to the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents CTA operators, “unless transit agencies post notices alerting customers about the existence of these laws, criminals will not be deterred from committing these heinous crimes.”

Both the City and State government have recognized the deterrent effect of signs indicating increased penalties- “Hard Time for Gun Crime” (CPD), “Hit a Worker, $10,000 Fine, 14 Years in Jail” (IDOT), or similar signage on CTA buses are visible everywhere.
Commissioner Reyes elaborated her reasons for opposing the proposal in a June 24, 2008 Chicago Sun-Times article: “Cabs already have enough postings,” and that “there doesn’t seem to be an urgent need for this information.’”

However, statistics indicate there is, indeed, an “urgent need.” Rates of workplace violence for cabdrivers have skyrocketed since the Driver Safety Placard proposal was submitted to DCS. In Chicago, the number of violent crimes (crimes classified as robberies, batteries, and assaults) inside taxicabs reported to police has risen by 333% - from 3 in March to 13 in June.

However, as cabdrivers know, the majority of incidents of violent crime in taxicabs goes unreported. A study conducted from 2000-2005 by the International Taxi Driver Safety Council confirms this fact. “What I found in surveying taxi drivers face to face in Chicago and other cities is that 75% of the violent crimes against taxi drivers go unreported,” says Barb Kabrick, Regional Coordinator of the International Taxi Driver Safety Council (ITDSC).

The results of the survey were presented to the Departent of Labor, and they were compelling enough that Kabrick was invited to speak at the at conferences of the Department of Labor and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in 2004.

In the online edition of the Chicago Sun-Times, Commissioner Reyes inexplicably said that she believes that the wider acceptance of credit cards is a deterrent to crime. The theory is that drivers will carry less cash and will be targeted less. Tell that to Stanley Shen, Ivan Njuba and countless others who have been victims of violent crime which had nothing to do with their carrying cash.

Barb Kabrik of the ITDSC agrees: “I don’t think that it’s often that money has anything to do with the violence- people assault cabdrivers because they can- where else is your victim that compliant?”

Even if we consider this false assumption that the primary reason cabdrivers are attacked is for money, how will credit card acceptance wipe away the perception that cabdrivers carry cash? The vast majority of cabdrivers accept credit cards already- does that mean that they do not carry cash? Does the DCS plan to make credit card payment mandatory in taxicabs, and eliminate the cash fares altogether?

The latest reason which has surfaced for Commissioner Reyes’s rejection of the Driver Safety Placard is perhaps the most preposterous: that the UTCC’s contact information appears on the bottom of the placards. This is an absurd claim as the DCS is well aware that the proposal which had been presented to them did not contain any information about the UTCC.

In fact, UTCC wanted the City of Chicago to put its own information on the bottom of the placard- as it is the governmental body responsible for the notice. Only when the DCS rejected the proposal, did the UTCC incorporate its own information into placards which are to date unrecognized by the city.