Dodgy taxi drivers can block video

MICHAEL FORBES
Last updated 05:00 06/10/2012

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Taxi companies can say no to police requests for security camera footage from cabs if their drivers are the ones misbehaving.

Since last August, video cameras have been compulsory in all taxis as part of new laws aimed at making the industry safer for drivers and passengers.

The Taxi Federation says the move has "dramatically" improved the behaviour of drunk passengers and reduced taxi crime, including serious assaults and robberies of drivers.

But it recently reminded its members they have no legal obligation to hand over footage that could incriminate those behind the wheel.

The issue arose after a Dunedin driver was accused of overloading by another taxi driver this year. Police accessed the security footage and the driver was fined as a result.

That prompted the federation to challenge the Transport Agency, which is now drafting new operational policy guidelines to let its staff know that not all taxi video is unrestricted.

Federation executive director Tim Reddish said it was important drivers had that level of protection to stop rival taxi drivers making "frivolous" competition-generated complaints, as was the case in Dunedin.

If that culture continued it could see drivers commit a criminal offence by moving their cameras or covering the lens to avoid detection, hindering the ultimate goal of deterring crime, he said.

"The taxi industry will always co-operate with the police . . . and there are many, many instances since cameras have come in where we have . . . 99 times out of 100, we supply the footage.

"We got cameras in there for the protection of taxi drivers and passengers from serious incidents. Not for tit-for-tat complaints where one driver is against another."

Mr Reddish did not think the legislation was handing taxi drivers a licence to misbehave, as the company would decide whether to hand over the footage. "The drivers have no access to it."

Police could also seek a search warrant if a complaint was serious enough.

But it was highly unlikely a judge would issue a warrant based on one driver's complaint against another, he said.

A police spokesman confirmed taxi organisations were not compelled to provide footage. It was also a criminal offence to interfere with the camera to obscure the driver, he said.

Wellington Combined taxi driver Yosha Warda said he personally would not cover up his camera even if he knew the footage could be used as police evidence against him.

"If you're not doing anything wrong then what's the problem?"

He did not think "tit-for-tat" complaints by taxi drivers were common, but agreed the main reason for having the cameras - to deter against serious crimes - should be safeguarded.

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"It's a good thing, it's been working well. But you still get some people doing some silly things. I had one break my wing mirror during the rugby sevens."

Transport Agency spokesman Andy Knackstedt said the agency did not think taxi companies would abuse the legislation.

All complaints would be taken seriously and investigated, whether they were made by members of the public or other taxi drivers, he said.

The camera legislation was introduced after a spate of attacks on taxi drivers.

THEY SAY

Should taxis have to hand over all security footage?

The Dominion Post asked people whether police should have full access to all taxi camera footage and what they thought of the initiative.

Duncan Smith, 41, Hamilton: Police should have full access. "If you've been misbehaving in a taxi then, sure as a coconut, you should be caught. That goes for the driver too." Thinks cameras in cabs are a good thing and is not worried about being filmed. Cameras are "everywhere these days".

Sarah Hedley, 24, Auckland: Would feel safer knowing all footage can be viewed. "If a driver did something to me then I would like to know the police can access the tape." Cameras in cabs provide peace of mind. "Sometimes you get a taxi by yourself and wonder if the driver is going to try something."

Susan Hedley, 55, Auckland: Not a regular taxi user but still thinks all footage should be available. "I feel more comfortable knowing my daughter [Sarah] or one of my sons can catch a taxi with the safety of a camera in it."

Doug Weir, 47, Lower Hutt: Supports the idea of cameras in cabs and thinks police should have full access to the tapes. "It's a double standard and it's not fair. The only taxi drivers who should be worried about it are the ones who have something to hide."

Tracy Bucknell, 35, Upper Hutt: Thinks all footage should be accessible, regardless of who laid the complaint. "Overloading a cab is still illegal and it's unsafe. What if the taxi driver had an accident?" Agrees cameras will deter violence against drivers but says it's a two-way street. "Passengers need to feel safe. I've heard things about dodgy drivers."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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