In the wake of the recent stabbings of two taxi drivers, Mayor Anthony A. Williams last night suggested some possible safety measures, including installing safety shields and distress buttons in cabs and using an electronic payment system.
At the same time, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey told hundreds of drivers that the department's internal affairs division is investigating allegations of corruption involving cabdrivers bribing employees of the Department of Motor Vehicles. He said the department will staff a hot line today--202-727-4144--to field tips.
The announcements came during a spirited town hall meeting Williams (D) held for cabdrivers at Ballou High School in Southeast Washington to solicit feedback on cabdriver safety and other issues. The cabbies who packed the auditorium responded generally favorably to the mayor's suggestions, accused the taxi commission of corruption, defended racial profiling and recited tales of robberies and assaults.
Sitting on stage with other city officials, Williams tossed out ideas on protecting cabdrivers, including safety training. No decisions were made, and the mayor indicated it was unclear how such proposals would be funded.
"We know that you can't have safe and healthy neighborhoods if cabdrivers are being murdered for their cash or if citizens can't get a cab," Williams said.
Although many cabdrivers spoke about safety, some said shields are not a good idea.
"I would never want to see shields in any cab in D.C.," said Billy Ray Edwards. "It takes away from the ambiance of the city."
Another cabdriver dismissed the effectiveness of shields.
"Armored cars still get robbed, and armored car drivers still get killed," Charles Johnson said.
But Yoshihiro Takata, a 30-year veteran, said he feels much safer since installing a $383 protective shield in October after he was robbed for the 13th time.
Takata said he had stopped picking up some black men after repeated robberies, but he said he has resumed picking up all customers now that he feels safer.
Some black cabdrivers defended racial profiling as a matter of safety, but Williams said the city must strike a balance between civil rights and safety.
Abdusalam Omer, the mayor's chief of staff, added: "Racial profiling is not acceptable in this city."
About two weeks ago, cabdriver Larry Barnes, 73, was fatally stabbed just off Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast Washington. Another cabdriver was seriously wounded last week when he was stabbed and robbed in the 400 block of O Street NW.