ST. PETERSBURG — Police will create a "cab crime watch" in its first step to slow the rapid pace of taxi cab robberies and violence this year, officials announced Thursday.
The crime watch will target customers acting suspiciously, Maj. Michael Puetz said after meeting with cab company representatives.
If a cab dispatcher receives a call that includes danger signs — reluctance to give a name or a request to be picked up in a remote location — the dispatcher will call the police. Police will alert other cab companies and send an officer to investigate.
St. Petersburg has 512 licensed cabs and 20 taxi companies. Most customers call for a cab rather than hail one on the street. That allows criminals to control the situation. They usually get only $50 to $100, Puetz said.
Most years see an average of 17 cab robberies, but this year has seen 16 already.
More troubling to police, two cab drivers have been killed in St. Petersburg since April, the most recent on July 12. Puetz said they are the first cab killings since the late 1990s.
Police said the investigation into the death of Yellow Cab driver Linda Faison is progressing well. Faison, 39, was found dead near Azalea Middle School hours after police said she picked up a passenger.
But leads into the May 2 killing of Blue Star cabbie Cyril Obinka have all but dried up. Obinka, 45, was found shot in the abdomen on 26th Street S.
Police asked anyone with information to call (727) 893-7780, or anonymously at (727) 892-5000.
The violence has made cab drivers reluctant to drive at night. Several cab companies said they've had employees refuse to work those hours.
"They don't want to work because of fear," said Joe Rosa, a manager at Independent Cab.
Andrew Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8150.