Taxis receive necessary surveillance to deter crime

By SpencerRoush

Mayor Richard M. Daley likes to keep a close eye on his city.

Cameras are strategically placed around the city on stoplights, in schools, city buses, street corners and now taxi cabs, making Chicago one of the most-watched cities in the United States.

Daley claims crime is his motivation for increasing camera installations across the city, while stoplight cameras continue to catch drivers in the act of running red lights and committing other driving violations, bringing easy money into the city’s bank account. If you’re caught on camera running a red light, you will quickly be fined $100.

Even though some of Chicago’s surveillance is questionable and may cross the line of intrusion, the mayor’s most recent addition to the camera brigade in cabs may actually help drivers, rather than put money back into the city’s pocket.

After moving to the city and taking numerous taxis, I found that occasionally there will be a driver who wants to chat with passengers, rather than talk on their phone. Some are more than willing to talk about strange or extreme scenarios that play out in their cab.

Most taxi drivers tell stories of customers performing various sexual acts in the back seat while getting satisfaction that the driver may be watching. Other common stories include chauffeuring famous people such as Jerry Springer or a government official.

However, some drivers have more disturbing stories to tell that reinforce the decision to add cameras to each taxi. One driver said a man loaded a gun in the backseat while he drove to the passenger’s  destination. Even though the driver was not hurt or threatened by the man, getting a picture of him may have helped solve a crime if the passenger had committed one.

Taxi companies recognize the threat of passengers robbing or physically abusing drivers, which is why the plastic bulletproof barriers were installed. However, the barriers turned out to be more cumbersome than helpful. If a passenger wanted to injure or rob a driver, they could simply get out of the cab and shoot through the driver-side window to avoid the bullet-resistant cover.

Cab drivers work late nights and long hours. They transport potential criminals who know drivers must carry money because most customers pay their fares in cash because of the unpredictability of the  credit card machines.

According to a 2008 University of Illinois at Chicago survey, on average, taxi drivers’ shifts are more than 13 hours, while more than one-fifth of Chicago-area drivers said they have been threatened or attacked by a passenger with the barriers in place.

In a new effort to deter violence on drivers, cameras are expected to gradually be installed in cabs. It may be years before all taxis acquire the equipment because of its high cost, which is priced at more than $1,200 per camera.

The camera takes a panoramic view of the backseat when someone enters the cab, leaves the cab and when the fare meter is turned on. Drivers also have the option of snapping more pictures using a button when they feel threatened or in danger.

However, with these cameras, companies are responsible for making them tamper-proof and notifying customers of their existence when they enter the taxi.

Even though placing cameras in cabs is additional surveillance the city has over its patrons, which may feel intrusive at times, giving up some privacy in exchange for the safety of taxi drivers is worth it.