CABBIES are set to become the eyes and ears of the police thanks to an innovative new crime-busting initiative.
Using the Neighbourhood Watch, Shop Watch and Pub Watch model, taxi drivers are being drafted in to help fight crime.
It is the first scheme of its type in the Thames Valley Police region.
Taxi Watch is hoping to recruit both Hackney cabs and private hire drivers to the initiative in Cherwell.
So far 60 cabbies and three private hire firms across Cherwell have signed up for the scheme.
Cabbies will be given a radio for their vehicle that is linked direct to police and the CCTV office at Banbury Police Station as well as members of the Cherwell Crime Partnership, including shops and businesses.
They will be able to report crimes as they happen such as late-night fights in the town centre, and also receive warnings about shoplifters who may jump into their cab.
Organiser Sgt Katrina Hibbert said: “Cherwell Taxi Watch Scheme is a joint initiative established by Thames Valley Police and Cherwell District Council .
“It is similar to the Neighbourhood Watch scheme as members receive information from Thames Valley Police about incidents that are relevant to them.
“Taxi drivers are the eyes and ears of the community through their excellent working knowledge of the area.
“In this way they can be more vigilant and assist us to reduce and detect crime in Cherwell.
“The aim is very much about us working jointly together to reduce crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour in the community.”
Drivers also have the chance to have a CCTV camera installed in their vehicle, which police say could prevent people abusing cabbies or running off without paying a fare.
The scheme is voluntary for Hackney Carriage taxis and the council will pick up the cost of the equipment, but drivers would pay for installation.
Cameras would pick up images only, and would be overseen by the council’s licensing department.
Taxi drivers have also been given advice on personal safety and helped with procedures on how to report crimes against them.
Steve Lal, a spokesman for Bicester taxi drivers, welcomed the scheme.
He said: “Certain drivers were not reporting incidents that happened to them as it was time consuming. But now they know about the scheme and it will make things a lot easier.
“It benefits taxi drivers as we have a closer link with police than before.
“It’s like the Neighbourhood Watch scheme where if you know something is going on that’s out of order it’s your public duty to report it.”
Police were last night unable to say if the scheme could be extended to other parts of the county. But Aaron Singh, manager of Oxford’s 001 Taxis, said technical hurdles may see city drivers oppose the scheme. Many use electronic personal digital assistants (PDAs) instead of radios to communicate with their office and would not want to make holes in the dashboard to fit radios, he said. He added that drivers may not want to report incidents. He said: “I think they would want to stay out of the limelight. “If they got involved it takes them off the road. The police would need witnesses to give evidence in court. “You are talking time out of when you could be earning money to support your family and pay your mortgage.” Oxford City Council is to re- consult on plans to record all conversations through compulsory taxi CCTV following an outcry. But private hire driver Khalil Ahmed – who has fought the plans – said Oxford should follow Cherwell with a voluntary CCTV scheme. He said: “It should be left to the drivers.
“In principle I am opposed to it. It is intrusive, it is big brother.”